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Passion for Tippecanoe County wind farm project wanes; Economics, annoyance factors add up

Those looking to the horizon in southern Tippecanoe County for spinning wind turbines will have to wait a little longer.

EDF Renewable Energy, a third-party operator that maintains wind farms and has recently been working to develop its own, is terminating its lease agreements on nearly 10,381 acres in southeast Tippecanoe County after seven years of communication with property owners.

The company informed its lessors in an annual meeting on June 19 about the shutdown of Tippecanoe Wind Project. However, property owner and lessor Allen Orr said the reasons he heard were somewhat vague.

Orr, who leased his 185 acres to EDF, said during the annual meeting in 2012 company officials alluded to an economic problem.

“They didn’t say much, only that they were sort of on hold, I think, because I don’t think they had a buyer for the power they were going to generate.”

EDF released a statement Wednesday about the termination of the project.

“Throughout the development process, a vast number of studies and reviews are done in preparation for the eventual installation and operation of the project. Recent study results had indicated potential siting impacts associated with set-backs for multiple species of birds and bats found in the area. This in conjunction with future projects of the anticipated transmission availability date led us to release the participants of the Tippecanoe Wind Project.”

Orr leased his land for $10 an acre annually to EDF.

Orr said the introduction of the project in 2006 didn’t shake too many residents and neither has the termination.

“As far as most of us are concerned, so be it,” Orr said. “We cooperated and they couldn’t make it fly.”

As of 2010, Indiana held 11th place in the nation for wind energy capacity and third fastest in growth. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, total output of electricity in Indiana wind farms could power more than 300,000 households or 12 percent of the state’s 2,473,000 households.

Familiar site to some

Currently, there are more than 400 wind turbines in Benton County and at least 300 in White County.

Bruce Buchanan, 65, of Fowler has been living in his two-story red brick home in the middle of 6,000 acres of farmland since 1972 and had grown accustomed to the silence of the farm by the time BP began installing his turbines in 2008.

“When you walked outside, it was peaceful and quiet, really. And do you know what we have now? We have generators talking to us,” he said with a chuckle. “They are mechanical beings. And if you don’t want to talk to them, they still talk to you.”

But Buchanan and his wife, Ginger, adapted for the sake of future economic security.

“The family I leave behind will need to make a living and pay bills like I do. In my mind, if you chose not to be a part of the project, I don’t think you were using your economic sense because you about have to do this,” he said, adding that in a county as small as Benton – about 8,400 people – it’s an unmatched opportunity for revenue.

Buchanan receives about $5,000 annually for each of the seven average-sized towers and about $7,500 for each of the four Clipper towers – turbines with blades 30 feet longer than average, he said.

With 11 towers on his property, that’s $30,000 in extra revenue for the corn farmer.

Growing disenchantment

About the time Buchanan watched semitrailer after semitrailer haul the blades of the wind-capturing behemoths onto his property, the region seemed taken by the notion of clean energy.

Since then, however, some Hoosiers have become disenchanted with the humming giants, seeing more negatives than positives.

One example is Clinton County, where the county’s board of commissioners voted recently to keep the county “wind farm free,” at least while they’re on the board.

E.ON, a power and gas company with facilities in Europe, Russia and North America, brought the project to the board of commissioners July 1.

County Commissioner Skip Evans said he and his fellow board members spent the past month speaking with constituents and gathering information about the impact of wind farms in preparation for E.ON’s proposal.

“I went to wind farm meetings in Tipton County, and the residents hate them,” Evans said.

Since then, Evans said he’s received more than 100 calls telling him “don’t give in.”

Meanwhile, he has had only five calls in favor of wind energy projects.

Common complaints from landowners who live around the turbines include the constant hum, shadow flicker, and sometimes blades flinging ice. On top of the annoyance factor is the impact on birds and bats.

Communication factor

Chad Martin, renewable energy Extension specialist for Purdue University, said there concerns about the humming sound are valid. Secondly, there has been, at times, a lack of communication between companies harvesting the wind and landowners.

“The industry is so new here in Indiana,” he said. “Not all places in the state are well-equipped to understand how wind farms integrate within their community.”

That’s why Martin and other wind energy experts at Purdue are doing research to address and validate their concerns.

“The noise issue is one that is prevalent among opposition,” he said. While the blades can be adjusted to minimize the noise, engineers also must account for external variables, such as the turbines proximity to obstructions in the field causing noise to bounce around.

Possibility of a sour relationship between the landowner and the global energy companies also can intimidate farmers from engaging in business.

Martin said locals and wind energy corporations need to look no further than White County for an example of a successful working relationship.

“The wind energy developer said ‘we will accommodate you,’ ” he said. The company addressed landowners’ questions and made adjustments.

Specifically, landowners requested the use of a linear placement of the turbines as opposed to the scatter pattern used in Benton County that can interrupt the flow of farming.

“They did not treat it as a behind the door, under-the-table communication,” Martin said. “They want to become good neighbors.”