September 23, 2013

Tipton debating wind farm approval; Plan commission looking at 3 options

By Ken de la Bastide | Kokomo Tribune | September 23, 2013 |

TIPTON – The Tipton County Plan Commission is struggling to decide how to site future wind energy developments in the county.

The options have been narrowed down: use the existing mechanism, which involves the Board of Zoning Appeals, create overlay districts where wind farms are permitted or rezone property from agricultural to industrial to designate areas where turbines may be built.

But the commission, unable to decide on changes to the county’s wind ordinance, voted Thursday to seek an extension to a moratorium on wind development. The Tipton County commissioners set the moratorium to expire Oct. 1.

The plan commission has been trying for several months to work out changes to the wind ordinance first adopted in 2007.

In 2011, the BZA granted a conditional use permit for the Wildcat Wind Farm operated by E.ON Climate & Renewables. Earlier this year, developer juwi Wind was granted a conditional use permit for the proposed Prairie Breeze Wind Farm, but that permit included additional restrictions on the development. After months of protests, the permit required a 1,500-foot setback from property lines and creation of a property value guarantee.

Now, two legal actions have been filed against the BZA.

Jason Henderson, president of the plan commission, said he thought it was decided at an earlier meeting to continue with the current approval process through the BZA, butc ommission member Joe VanBibber said he dislikes the current process.

“If we had a different process, this would have been over with,” he said of the Prairie Breeze Wind Farm battle.

VanBibber said the county has to consider creating overlay districts where wind farms are a permitted use or allow their development in an industrial district.

“If it’s a permitted use in an industrial district, it would require the property be rezoned from agricultural use,” he said.

Frank Zickmund, a commission member, said each wind farm application is different and the BZA can set conditions beyond the current wind ordinance.

“We knew after the first project that there were things we needed to update,” he said.

Commission member Jim Ashley said he was concerned about the zoning and contended wind energy is not appropriate for an area zoned for agriculture. He said turbines are part of an industry producing energy.

“This county doesn’t support wind development,” he said.

Zickmund said agriculture is the biggest industry in Tipton County and farmers pay the majority of property taxes.

Steve Edson, director of the plan commission, said the members have not reached a decision on an approval process.

“It will be easy to retain the current process and to rezone property to industrial use,” he said. “It will be difficult to create overlay districts.”

Despite a lack of consensus on the approval process for the placement of wind turbines, a public hearing was set for Oct. 17 at the Tipton County 4-H Fairgrounds on the revised ordinance.

Edson will present proposals to maintain the current approval process and to require the rezoning of land for the placement of wind turbines at the public hearing.

VanBibber said he will create overlay districts before the meeting.

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