PERU – Throughout the state, the development of wind farms has created a firestorm of debate. Residents’ peaceful rural lives are being impacted by wind turbines that soar more than 200 feet above the landscape.
In Tipton County, hundreds showed up last month either to protest or support a permit for juwi Wind, a company that wants to build 94 turbines in the northwest corner of the county.
Just this week, a crowd gathered during a Howard County commissioners meeting to request a moratorium on wind development.
Similar debates have swirled around wind farms in White, Grant and Benton counties.
But in Miami County, residents have been largely untouched by the heated disagreement. It might not stay that way for long. Two wind companies are considering the region for wind farm development. Both have constructed testing towers to determine the viability of installing wind turbines.
And both companies say there’s enough wind energy in the county to make it a good place to put up wind turbines.
Invenergy LLC is one of those companies. It’s North America’s largest independent wind power generation company, and has constructed 35 wind farms in the U.S., Canada and Europe, according to its website.
It put up a test tower in the northern part of the county in 2008, but has since taken it down.
“With specific regard to Miami County, we’re pleased with the area’s wind resource,” the company said in a statement. “We continue to evaluate our proposed plans based on a number of factors, including power market conditions and regional renewable energy needs. We look forward to announcing further developments in the future.”
Community Energy Inc. is the other company. Vice President Tom Tuffey said the company has been involved in the production of more than 700 wind projects since 2001.
It put up a test tower in 2010, and it’s still gathering data near the intersection of North 200 West and Birmingham Road near Macy.
Tuffey said the county is suitable for wind development, but, like Invenergy, qualified that market conditions and federal tax policy will play a big role in whether the company constructs a wind farm in the county. But both companies are being pre-emptive. Landowners have been approached with contracts that would commit their land for wind development should the companies decide to build.
Darrel Deeds, who owns farmland in the northern part of the county, said a wind company asked him to sign a contract, but he decided against it.
“It’s not what the contract said that bothered me, but what it left out,” he said.
He said he has relatives in the area, however, who have signed up to lease their land for future development.
Still, the two companies have yet to make any official requests to begin development.
That’s something Miami County officials say they hope happens soon.
“We look forward to it,” said Jim Tidd, executive director of the Miami County Economic Development Authority. “We’re trying to encourage wind development and put ourselves in a competitive position for it, so we’re thrilled to death that there are companies looking at northern Miami County. It’d be a great reuse of that land.”
The county took its first step to entice wind companies to the area by passing a wind ordinance in 2011.
Miami County Commissioner Josh Francis, who voted to approve the ordinance, said he talked to Community Energy and the company felt good about the policies and regulations the ordinance put in place.
“It’s an ordinance that encourages wind development, but we made sure to protect our roads and people in the area,” he said.
Francis said he worked closely with Cass and White county officials to write the ordinance. He said all the counties wanted to be on the same page in case a wind company wanted to develop a farm spanning county lines.
“We tried to work with these counties to make sure our ordinances were similar, because these companies don’t want to have to deal with a bunch of different policies,” he said.
During discussions with Community Energy, county officials learned the company would most likely develop the northern part of the county, and construct a string of turbines across Miami and Cass counties instead of building large, condensed clusters in one area.
In reality, the southern part of the county could produce more energy, since it has higher, more powerful wind speeds. Most developers would likely avoid the area, however, because of Grissom Air Reserve Base and the Kokomo Airport.
Mark Orders-Woempner, a public affairs officer at Grissom, said any wind turbines proposed near the base or airport must first be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration to determine their impact on air traffic.
The additional FAA regulations and restrictions that come with building near the air strips make southern Miami County unattractive for development, Tidd said, even though it has better wind currents.
Although companies would likely stay away from that part of the county, Francis said the sparsely populated northern area would benefit the most from the additional tax revenue a wind farm would produce.
“We don’t have businesses in the north part of the county,” he said. “North Miami schools have no corporate support. As far as taxes, it’s all thrown on the residents. A wind farm is something we could do to add business to the tax base at the northern end of the county.”
Tidd agreed, adding rolling hills and a lack of infrastructure make it hard to develop industry or manufacturing in the north. The largely agricultural area would work well with a wind farm, he said.
And Francis said he believes most people in that part of the county would be comfortable with wind turbines in their backyards.
“I’ve talked to a few residents who said they weren’t big fans and wouldn’t support wind turbines on their farm unless it would be beneficial to them,” he said. “But I don’t think we’d have the kind of uprising they’ve had in Tipton County.”
Deeds, who owns land in the north, is one of those who wouldn’t mind a wind farm in the area. Although he held off signing a contract with a wind company, Deeds said he still thinks it’s a good idea.
“I kind of like them personally,” he said. “I like the look of them, and I’d rather have wind turbines than foreign oil.”