December 19, 2012

Wind farm tax abatement OK’d; Zoning the next battleground

By Ken de la Bastide | KOKOMO TRIBUNE | December 19, 2012 |

TIPTON – After two hours listening to opponents and proponents, the Tipton County Council voted 4-1 to approve a 10-year tax abatement for the Prairie Breeze Wind Farm.

With the approval for juwi Wind, the next hurdle to be cleared before construction can start is a conditional use permit, which must be approved by the Tipton County Board of Zoning Appeals.

The auditorium at Tri-Central High School was near capacity, and more than 43 residents signed up to comment.

Residents came out in force to support the tax abatement for the project – many of them local farmers.

A majority of those who spoke were in favor of granting the tax abatement while opponents asked council members to delay making a decision to gather more information.

“I’m a young Tipton County farmer,” Brady Peters said. “I will live here the rest of my life. I fully support a 10-year abatement. This is the future of Tipton County.”

Pastor Jeff Harlow, of Crossroads Community Church, said he is uncertain how members of his church stand on the issue, but he supports the tax abatement. Harlow said the project will provide funds to improve roads and Tri-Central Schools.

“Lead us into the future,” he said. “Give us the money for our roads and schools.”

An emotional Rhonda Peters, a first-grade teacher at Tri-Central, said she is obligated to have a voice even if it’s unpopular.

“I’m obligated to do everything I can to make sure children have the best educational opportunity,” she said. “Our children deserve the best.”

Peters said the wind farm development will provide the necessary funds to provide the children of the community with the best education.

Ron Ousley said county officials should gather information from the Wildcat Wind Farm currently operating in eastern Tipton County.

“Slow this down, take the time before we give an abatement,” he said. “Get facts from the wind farm we already have. We’re going from an agricultural to a wind farm county.”

Emily West asked how well the county officials were informed about juwi Wind, asking if they were aware the company sold a Nebraska wind farm before it was completed.

She also asked about the depreciation schedule for the wind turbines and how much assessed value would remain after the abatement period.

“A 10-year abatement is not appropriate,” West said. “Three weeks ago, I thought wind farms were cool, but since then I’ve done a lot of research. We need more time.”

Prairie Township resident Andy Wyatt didn’t ask for additional time to oppose the abatement, he wanted it voted down. Wyatt said the proposal was putting money ahead of why people moved into the area.

“If you approve this, we will be a community divided for a long time,” he said. “Divided under the shadow of a wind turbine.”

The company requested a 10-year tax abatement for the construction of between 31 and 94 wind turbines in Prairie Township and the western portion of Liberty Township.

Development of the project is contingent on the federal government extending a wind energy tax credit, which is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31.

Matt Heck, senior project developer for juwi, said the company will submit an application for a conditional use permit in January with consideration by the Tipton County Board of Zoning Appeals. He said an open house will be conducted to address concerns from the public after the application is submitted.

The project will range from 50 to 150 megawatts with the first turbines going into commercial use possibly by December 2013 and total operation by 2015.

Heck said issues of concern among residents include Federal Aviation Administration lightning requirements, shadow flicker from the turbine blades and property values are to be considered by the BZA when the conditional use permit is sought.

But the company went on to state that there been no negative impact on property values in Benton and White counties in northwestern Indiana.

With the Prairie Breeze Wind Farm reaching to the Howard County line, Heck said Howard County doesn’t require a conditional use permit for a wind farm, the setback of turbines to adjacent property lines is less and higher noise levels are permitted.

Tipton County has done a good job of establishing its wind ordinance, he said.

The company will invest between $100 million and $300 million and pay $7.2 million in taxes under the 10-year tax abatement. Heck said the company will provide the county between $700,000 and $1.8 million in economic development funds over the first four years of the project.

Tri-Central would receive $3.1 million in the Capital Projects Fund over the life of the project, which is expected to remain in operation for 20 years.

“Most wind projects don’t get to this stage,” Heck said. “There is a longer development timeline. We have been working in Tipton County since 2009.”

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