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Earlham’s plans for wind turbine on hold

Plans for a large wind turbine on Earlham College property have been put on hold.

Originally scheduled to go before the Richmond Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday, zoning requests for the proposed project at 1405 Abington Pike have been “postponed indefinitely,” according to an email Saturday from Brian Zimmerman, the college’s director of media relations.

“While we are eager to receive community opinions regarding the possibility of generating wind energy on campus, the College’s exploration is still very preliminary at this point,” said the email. “We have begun to explore the advantages and disadvantages of such a project, but no decision has been made at any level of the College’s administration to proceed with such a project.”

Earlier in the week, Zimmerman said the college had asked the BZA to reschedule its appearance to June 12 and was planning one or two informational meetings about the project with neighbors and other interested parties to take place before the BZA meeting.

In Saturday’s email, Zimmerman wrote, “Yesterday, we further postponed scheduling information sessions and canceled a scheduled appearance before the BZA due to the still preliminary and consultative nature of discussions related to this project.”

The email concludes, “As a College, we are committed to seeking ways to reduce our carbon footprint, improve the environment, and execute meaningful stewardship over the College’s resources.”

On April 10, Earlham and Performance Services of Indianapolis submitted two applications to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

An application for special exception asked for permission to use less than an acre of the 157-acre plot for a large wind turbine system and access road.

“Earlham wishes to power a significant portion of their campus with renewable power, which can only be accomplished with a large wind turbine system,” the application stated.

An application for variance of development standards included requests to increase height limitations for the turbine tower from 140 to 330 feet and rotor diameter from 200 to 375 feet.

“A wind study recently completed for the college confirmed that wind energy is a viable option if the tower is tall enough. The moderate wind resource in our area requires the tower height and rotor diameter to be larger than what is stated in the ordinance,” the application stated.

A variance to allow exceeding the 40 acoustic decibels (dBa) sound threshold within 1,000 feet of the turbine also was requested.

“In regards to sound, this project will meet the 40 dBa threshold at ALL surrounding residences but will not meet the 40 dBa threshold 1,000 feet away on the college’s farmland,” the application states.

After the applications were submitted, the city sent letters to nearby residents – standard procedure for zoning variance requests.

“I’m a little disappointed in the communication,” said Trudi Weyermann, who has lived on Abington Pike for about 15 years and is active in the neighborhood. “I don’t think we should have found out about this in a letter from the city. … None of us were contacted by the college to say, ‘Hey, this is a project we’re thinking about.’ ”

Weyermann joined a Facebook group called “Say No To Earlham’s Wind Turbine Near City Housing.”

“I’m all for alternative energy,” she said. Her questions are about the location of the turbine.

“It’s going to be an enormous structure,” said Weyermann. “They’ve got a lot of property. They could locate this in a better location than near our homes.”

An online petition addressed to Earlham and the Board of Zoning Appeals is posted at www.change.org. It raises concerns about possible health effects, sound, shadow flicker from the turbine, the location, wildlife, visibility and property values.

“These things are usually installed in the middle of nowhere for a reason,” Weyermann said.