Bob Lyons and Stephen Fouch Jr. still wave when they drive past each other on the road, but it remains to be seen how long the two remain neighborly.
“We’ve never had any issues before, but these projects have been known to split communities,” Fouch said, referring to the proposed Bluff Point wind farm.
The plant manager at a Portland factory, Fouch already lost his cool once, at a planning commission meeting in December, when he slammed a chair on the floor before walking out. “I was upset,” he said recently. “I made an a– out of myself.”
Lyons, a farmer, retired longtime teacher and the current Pike Township trustee, stands to profit from the wind farm spread out on more than 12,000 acres in southern Jay and northern Randolph counties, including his farm. Fouch, on the other hand, will gain nothing, and he could see a decrease in his property value and quality of life, he says.
The two live about a mile apart on the same road in southern Jay County.
A one-year extension of a key tax credit for the wind industry was included in the fiscal cliff deal Congress passed on New Year’s Day.
The tax credit, which has been a major driver for wind development across the country in the past two decades, is worth 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of energy produced by new wind installations for their first 10 years of operation.
“That was important for our industry and for this project (Bluff Point),” said Mary Wells, a spokeswoman for Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, a Fortune 200 company with 2011 revenues of more than $15.3 billion. “It makes wind energy even more competitive.”
‘Not a wind farm yet’
The last big step before Bluff Point proceeds to construction is for NextEra to sign a long-term contract with an electric utility like Indiana Michigan Power, a rural electric cooperative or a municipal power authority to purchase the wind farm’s power.
“We’re not a wind farm yet,” Wells said. “We need to secure that customer.”
But NextEra, the largest wind generator in North America, is optimistic.
“The looming expiration of the Production Tax Credit had a negative impact on what we could tell utilities we could do,” Wells said. “Now that it’s in place, it gives us certainty, and the potential customer certainty. We think we can price our power in a way to make it attractive to a potential customer. The price they are going to pay is determined in the contract, and is not subject to geopolitical issues or shortages of coal or oil or whatever. It’s a very reliable price they can count on going forward. They know what they are going to pay. That’s attractive to a utility.”
Statue of Liberty
NextEra plans to build 70 to 75 wind turbines in Pike, Madison and Jefferson townships in Jay County and Franklin and Ward townships in Randolph County.
Depending on the technology, the turbines would stand between 262 feet tall and 328 feet tall at the hub in the center of the blades, which themselves are the size of jumbo jet wings. By comparison, Shafer Tower at Ball State University rises 150 feet in the air, and the torch of the Statue of Liberty reaches 305 feet above the ground.
NextEra bought the rights to the $240 million-project from Indiana Michigan Power. I&M determined it would be cheaper to buy power from the new Wildcat Wind Farm in Madison and Tipton counties than it would be to develop Bluff Point.
I&M entered a 20-year agreement to purchase power from Wildcat Wind Farm’s owner, E.ON Climate & Renewables North America.
“E.ON got hold of I&M and said, ‘We can sell you power as cheap as you can make it, without you having to make that capital expenditure,’ “ Lyons said. “That’s when they decided to abandon the project (Bluff Point).”
So much already has been invested in leases, engineering and other expenses that “you know they’re going to start construction this year, though I don’t envision them having it totally completed,” Lyons said. “They’ve put a lot of money into it, millions.”
The Production Tax Credit on the project is worth $75 million to NextEra, he said, adding, “They don’t want to lose that.”
In addition, leases I&M negotiated with local land owners for the project expire at the end of this year. If construction doesn’t start in 2013, NextEra would have to renegotiate the leases at additional expense.
‘Like hitting the lottery’
About 55 property owners are leasing their land to NextEra for the project, according to Wells. Lyons, a member of the Jay County Development Corp. board of directors, puts that number closer to 90 property owners, saying the lower number doesn’t include the expansion of the wind farm since NextEra took over the project.
NextEra estimates it will make more than $20 million in lease payments to land owners in Jay and Randolph counties over 30 years, and that it will pay $28 million in local property taxes during that time.
“I know one farmer who’s going to get 10 turbines,” Lyons said. “There are several others with five or six. It’s like hitting the lottery: $100,000 a year for 30 years.”
Property owners will be paid $6,800 for each wind turbine installed on their land, Lyons said. Property owners also will be paid for turbine access road and power line easements.
“This is twice as good as (having) an ethanol plant and three times better than a Walmart,” Lyons said. He declined to say how many turbines would be installed on his farm land.
“In my opinion, Bob has a conflict of interest,” Fouch said. “He’ll be making quite a bit of money on this. He’s been promoting it. He’s got friends making these (zoning) and (property tax abatement) decisions. I don’t have a problem with people making money off of their property, unless it affects other people’s property values and quality of life.”
A NextEra representative told Fouch that wind farms don’t hurt property values, and in some cases property values actually increase. “I guess he felt I fell off the turnip truck,” said Fouch, who turned to Industrial Wind Action Group (”formed to counteract the misleading information promulgated by the wind energy industry and various environmental groups”) for help.
The group’s website led him to studies showing wind farms decrease property values by 20 percent to 40 percent.
“I know you can’t believe everything on the Internet, but I’m not going to take NextEra’s word for it, either,” Fouch said. “The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I heard all kinds of horror stories about living around these turbines from Wind Action Group.”
The horror stories include “wind turbine syndrome,” where people exposed to wind turbine noise have reported tinnitus, ear pain and vertigo, and a visual nuisance called “shadow flicker” – when the rotation of wind turbine blades causes alternating periods of shadow and light.
“I will not be very happy if my daughter experiences some of these health issues,” Fouch said. “NextEra claims wind turbine syndrome is a farce. But this would not be the first time industry has subjected people to something they don’t understand, like lead paint and asbestos. Obviously if I don’t like living here, and go to sell our property, it’s going to be hard to sell. Who would want to live by these things?”
‘Drive you nuts’
Wind farm proponents tell Fouch that noise, if any, from wind turbines is no louder than a refrigerator running.
“That’s fine, but how would you like to be out fishing and have a refrigerator ringing in the air?” Fouch asked. “It doesn’t have to be loud to be annoying. A dripping faucet can drive you nuts.”
Fouch, his wife and their daughter live in the country on four acres with a pond.
Then there is the visual impact of wind turbines.
“You can see them for miles and miles and miles,” Fouch said. “I don’t want to look at that for the next 30 years.”
‘He blames me’
He calls wind farms a “tax boondoggle” and claims “the only thing green about wind energy is the money.”
“They already get that federal tax credit, and then Jay County turns around and saves NextEra another $4.5 million through tax abatement on top of that,” Fouch said. “This whole deal will create only eight or nine full-time jobs after all is said and done. When you take into account the manufacturing of these turbines, hauling them in on semi trucks, all the work on the access roads, cranes to install them, the tons of cement used, their carbon footprint offsets any green energy they produce.”
Fouch lost his temper at the plan commission meeting, attended by 50 or so concerned citizens, because “it became clear that the decision had already been made, and it didn’t matter what we said.”
Lyons said of Fouch: “He blames me, but I don’t make those decisions (about where to site a wind farm). And he acts like this is the first time he’s ever heard about this wind farm. We’ve been talking about it on the radio and in the newspaper since 2007.”
The wind farm, named after the Jay County hamlet Bluff Point, is expected to generate enough electricity to power about 30,000 average Indiana homes. Besides construction and permanent jobs, lease payments to land owners and property tax payments to local government, the project’s benefits include no air, water or ground pollution; clean, affordable energy for the region; no use of water; no demands on local schools or services; and preservation of farm land, according to NextEra.
While the project is spread out over some 12,000 acres, the turbines and access roads would use only 90 to 115 acres of land.
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