August 21, 2014

County terminates Wildcat Wind Farm

By Pat Munsey | Kokomo Perspective | August 21, 2014 |

The Wildcat Wind Farm project survived six years of recession and remonstration, but last week it finally breathed its last. Faced with changing economic conditions and an unrelenting opposition that had expanded into political activism, the Howard County Commissioners terminated their agreement with e.On last week.

The action took place in a special meeting on Aug. 14, and the commissioners further passed a resolution to the Howard County Plan Commission to enact more restrictive standards on wind farms and to require wind farms to obtain a special use permit

The action was met with applause, with many of the remonstrators shedding tears of relief. Howard County will incur no liability and will pay not a settlement to e.On with the agreement. The company will allow the county to retain a $30,000 payment that was made to assist with costs related to establishing the project.

Wyman explained that the commissioners could not respond to remonstrators’ questions over the past few months due to the negotiations.

“I realize that some of you thought we were being arrogant by not making public statements or by not answering hypothetical questions,” said Wyman. “We hope you can appreciate why we were so adamant about not negotiating on the front page of the newspaper or having something we said publicly used against us.”

“I’m not shocked,” said lead remonstrator Grace April in response to the action. “I’m thankful, and I’m blessed. I would like to thank Jesus Christ. Prayer is a powerful thing, and if you doubt that, you haven’t been here for the past year and a half. I’m very thankful.”

April asked if the remonstrators should now attend the plan commission meetings to provide input. Commissioner Tyler Moore explained that work on the revisions will likely begin in September. A public hearing will be held on the matter, Wyman added.

Several people expressed their gratitude for the elimination of the wind farm, but there were some who were displeased by the county’s actions.

Don Keith, business agent for the International Union of Operating Engineers, explained that the commissioners eliminated jobs by their actions. He stated that his union had benefitted from more than 500,000 man-hours of work on nearby wind farms – more than 85,000 of them in Tipton County alone.

“I think you made a mistake,” said Keith. “The towers built in Tipton county were 98 percent made in the United States. We just gave that away.”

Another remonstrator, Tim Rickle, called on the commissioners to provide more transparency in their process.

“Just a suggestion, perhaps you could think of a modern way of notifying the citizenry of event in the county,” said Rickle. “Most people here have email. Perhaps we could have an email system. I get the feeling that most people didn’t know about the wind farm in 2008.”

And one of the farmers who had entered into a lease with e.On spoke against the commissioners’ actions.

“This is a disappointment for someone who grew up on a farm and saw an opportunity for his family,” said the farmer, who did not give his name. “It’s alright to take up farm ground for U.S. 31. It’s alright to take up farm ground for a new transmission line or a sub-division. I get a chance to harvest the wind and produce clean energy, and you took it away from me. I‘m very disappointed.”

On the political side, Mike Barger took issue with Wyman’s depiction of the wind farm issue and its resolution.

“Paul Wyman’s attempt to take credit for ending the windmill project is disingenuous,” said Barger. “This is the same individual who championed the arrival of a wind farm for more than four years and defended it repeatedly in the face of remonstrance from citizens who felt their interests had not been represented by him.

“Now that the economic climate has changed for e.On and all wind energy companies such that a new wind farm no longer can access massive federal tax credits and subsidies, Wyman is trying to rewrite history and is demanding that the taxpayers see him as some sort of hero who saved the community from a project he invited, endorsed, and facilitated.

“The reality is that Wyman and his fellow leaders on the board of commissioners and the county council acted as they saw fit, did not exercise opportunities to inform the public beyond the letter of the law, made decisions in public sessions without notifying anyone that the wind farm issue would be addressed, and only after considerable political pressure was applied did they change course.

“I would call upon reasonable citizens of Howard County to remember that the many months of remonstration against the wind farm never would have been necessary had Wyman and his friends consulted the public and considered their views. We deserve better than what Paul Wyman has given us in terms of true leadership.”

The wind farm came to Howard County in 2008 through the efforts of the Kokomo-Howard County Development Corporation and a group of farmers seeking new forms of revenue. At the time, the local community was in the grips of a severe recession.

“They saw a great opportunity for this community,” said Wyman. “They believed that the wind farm would be a great benefit to our community. There was positive reception.”

Bringing the wind farm to Howard County meant changing the local planning ordinances to allow for its construction. Wyman stated that several organizations gave testimony in favor the project.

“The remonstrance opposing the wind farm was not a large one, even with the newspaper coverage of the wind farm,” said Wyman. “County officials felt the investment in our community had several benefits. There would be an increase in the tax base. There would be construction jobs and some permanent jobs. There would be additional assessed value in a declining assessed value market and direct economic development payments that we could use to help create additional new jobs in our community.”

Wyman stated that the matter was discussed in public meetings and that the county provided all legal notices according to the law prior to a tax abatement hearing in 2012.

But once windmills began dotting the landscape in nearby Tipton County, the opposition quickly grew. Grace April was among the earliest protestors, attending virtually every meeting that was properly publicized, but she was joined by literally thousands of local residents who signed petitions, attended meetings and urged for the end of the wind farm.

Last year, the commissioners relented to public pressure and successfully negotiated compromises with e.On to increase setbacks, reduce decibel levels, and to install light shields. e.On also agreed to invest additional money in the project to address quality of life issues. Beyond that, the commissioners enacted a moratorium on further wind development in 2013, and that prohibition still stands.

Wyman described the compromises as a vast improvement on the original economic development agreement, though the remonstrators did not agree.

In recent weeks, those remonstrators entered the political realm, endorsing two candidates who opposed those responsible for ushering in the wind farm. Crista Tharp received a nod in her race against Howard County Councilman Richard Miller, and Mike Barger was endorsed in his campaign against Wyman.

Wyman stated that the commissioners had to act.

“We had to make a decision,” said Wyman. “Terminate the contract and incur a massive lawsuit and a possible multi-million dollar settlement, or we could work to find a solution that was amicable to both parties.”

Wyman said he and county attorney Larry Murrell travelled to e.On’s headquarters in Texas following a meeting with leaseholders who no longer wanted to be a part of the wind farm. The company agreed to meet, and after months of negotiations, coupled with changes in market conditions, the two sides were able to reach the conclusion that the wind farm would be terminated.

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