Howard County has courted windmills since 2008. That’s when the Kokomo-Howard County Development Corp. approached Horizon Wind Energy about installing industrial wind farms locally.
In 2009, the county set the rules to govern windmills. And by 2012, the Wildcat Wind Farm was an impending reality. It was then that people became concerned. Two years later, those people feel they have not been heard.
Protestors have attended most of the meetings of the Howard County Commissioners over the past two years. They’ve visited the Howard County Council as well. Last July, the commissioners won some concessions from E.On, the wind energy provider under contract. They also placed a moratorium on future wind development, excluding the Wildcat Wind Farm. It still was not enough for those who will have to live in or near the wind farm.
Now, the protestors have allies. Crista Tharp, who is running against Howard County Councilman Richard Miller, has been endorsed by the more than 2,000 residents opposing wind development. Mike Barger, who is running against Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman, also is receiving support from the people. It’s all because these candidates stand against that local government has done.
“I get having to do things for the greater good, and the council and commissioners are in a tough position,” said Tharp. “That means not 100 percent of the people are going to agree with them. I understand, with people begging you to break a contract, how rough that is. It leaves the county open to being sued, which is not the best thing.
“I don’t think any of them did anything illegal, but their worst offense is that they did not stop to think about what it would do to people. My biggest concern is this is being done against the will of the people. That’s not what the council and commissioners are there to do. They are there to protect us.”
“Technology changes so much,” said Barger. “In the next 10 years, how will it change? Yet we’re signing 50-70 year contracts with these people. What I’m hearing from the people in eastern Howard County is they want out of the contract. There is a petition with 2,200 people signing it. That speaks volumes.
“From what I’ve seen in the commissioners’ meetings, I don’t think they’re listening to what the people want.”
What the people want may not be possible without exposing the county to a lawsuit. They want the wind farm scrapped. Barger, who relocated out of the planned wind farm after seeing what was taking place with windmills in Tipton County, is among that group.
“The commissioners have a signed agreement, but the county needs to decide how to move forward,” said Barger. “Do you cancel the contract? The people in eastern Howard County would sure like to see that and go through the litigation process instead. If that isn’t possible, I think you have to look again at the restrictions on placement distances.”
Barger believes the decision on how to regulate wind energy should be taken out of local hands.
“I wish this was a state issue,” said Barger. “I think the legislature needs to put some regulations in place, rather than setting rules county to county.”
Tharp and Barger both understand that the introduction of wind energy was a financial decision. As Wyman stated in May 2012, the county’s vision was a development that would create more than $200 million in taxable property, along with a cash payment from the company.
“We’re going to be receiving, you know, a million and a half dollars or so over several years that we’re going to be able to spend on other economic projects in our community,” Wyman said. “So, today, it’s wind farms, but where are we going to take those dollars with to help improve the quality of life in our community? And those are the types of benefits from doing a project like this.”
After a downsizing of the farm and a 10-year abatement, however, Tharp has serious doubts that the financial benefits will ever outweigh the negative impacts to the people.
“We are not going to get the kind of money the county think we’ll get from this,” said Tharp. “And once these windmills are up, they’re up. We don’t even get the benefits of the energy or any jobs from this. With that in mind, even if we were to get the $1.4 million they say we will, that in no way compensates our community for the thousands of people being hurt by it.
“That’s not enough money to disturb, to ruin, to hurt, to displace any of the county residents.”
But it was the council’s adamant refusal to respond to the people that angered Tharp the most.
“A woman stood up at the April meeting and asked each of the councilmen by name, ‘How many of us need to be here? How much money do we have to raise? What do we need to do in order to get you to stop this?’” said Tharp. “Dick Miller just stared at her. It was so uncomfortable.
“What I’m really bothered by is that people have made their homes and just want to live their life. But they don’t have a voice. They were asking the council to fight for them, but all they did was just give the people their right to speak.”
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