Work in Marshall County led to setback increase, later a ban on wind farms.
A Syracuse, Ind., attorney, with whom a local group of citizens is speaking with concerning wind turbine setbacks, is no stranger to wind farm debates or the wind energy company proposing such a project in Fayette County.
In fact, he was involved in one such debate which resulted in an Indiana county banning commercial wind farms entirely.
The Wind Project Concerned Citizens group, consisting of residents in Fayette, Henry and Rush counties, has recently expressed concern about the setback distances currently proposed by a Florida energy company – and the current setback standards in place in Fayette County – for the wind turbines in the Whitewater Wind Farm project when it comes to non-participating residents and their dwellings.
That project is slated to see the installation of 43 wind turbines in Fayette County – specifically in Posey and Fairview townships – by NextEra Energy Resources, along with turbines in Henry and Rush counties as well. The project, with a proposed start date being in 2016, is estimated to bring approximately $20 million in property tax revenue to Fayette County over the next 30 years, and result in an investment by NextEra ranging from $120 to $141 million in the area.
Property owners not participating in the project – meaning those not leasing a portion of their property to NextEra Energy Resources for the installation of wind turbines – have come together, however, in concern over the setback distance required for those wind turbines when it comes to their property.
“We feel if properly planned and regulated, a wind project can exist in our community and be largely supported by all the stake holders,” a statement issued last week from the group reads. “For this win-win condition to exist, local officials must be able to answer questions from the community utilizing information that has been independently obtained and verified, and be prepared to address concerns such as unnecessarily small setbacks of wind turbines to ensure that each of the citizens are able to have the full enjoyment and use of property that they have so heavily invested in.”
Fayette County current regulation only requires a 1,000-foot setback on wind turbines from a non-participating property owner’s residence, while NextEra has proposed a 1,400-foot setback. The citizens group, however, is looking to have the county amend its zoning regulation on setbacks to 2,640 feet.
The group has reached out to Syracuse attorney Stephen A. Snyder, of Snyder Morgan LLP., for assistance in its effort to have that ordinance amended.
It’s an area Snyder has experience in, especially in Marshall County, Ind. Snyder, who specializes in zoning, planning and land use law, represented the Concerned Citizens of Marshall County in their battle with county officials to amend that county’s setback ordinance in 2013, after the same wind energy company – NextEra Energy Resources – sought to construct a wind farm in that county consisting of roughly 70 turbines.
That citizens group, much like the Fayette County one, wanted to amend the setback distance in Marshall County from 1,000 feet to 2,640 feet.
Among the points of view Snyder made on behalf of that group in Marshall County was the population density in the county was such that the increase in setback distance was needed.
“I’m saying that when a population density is such that we can’t establish a wind turbine and not maintain at the bare minimum a half-mile setback from a residence, then it’s not the place,” Snyder was quoted as saying to Marshall County Commissioners in a May 6, 2013 story by WNDU Channel 16 of South Bend. “Marshall County has a population density, I think, of 106 people per square mile. White County is 52 people per square mile. Benton County is even less, so where there are wind farms the population density is much less, and you don’t have to worry as much, about being 1,000 feet away from someone sleeping.”
The population density of Marshall County is actually 102 people per square mile, according to 2010 United States Census data, while in comparison, Fayette County’s is 113 people per square mile.
Other points Snyder brought up on behalf of the Marshall County citizens group included concern over health effects from wind turbines, according to the WNDU story, something residents in Fayette County opposed to the Whitewater Wind Farm project have also raised.
“Everybody knows that it’s a young industry and we’re just now beginning to recognize what the health effects are,” Snyder was quoted as saying in the WNDU story. “The information that’s available now compared to two years ago is significant. The effects of the low frequency sounds, whether it’s 1,000 feet away or a half mile away or sometimes even a mile away is much more significant than anyone thought because we don’t hear it, the brain feels it the brain reacts to it and usually it results in sleeplessness and can aggravate existing conditions.”
Marshall County Commissioners ended up unanimously voting to revamp the county’s zoning ordinance to make the setback distance 2,640 feet in May 2013, and then proceeded later that month to vote to ban commercial wind farms entirely from the county.
That ban by commissioners was based, in part, on Snyder’s argument on behalf of the citizens group that population density in Marshall County was too high for the establishment of a commercial wind farm.
“Just in general, our population density is too high,” Marshall County Commissioner Deb Griewank was quoted as saying at that time by WNDU of South Bend. “We just decided that, you know, it’s too much.”
Other Indiana counties, such as Tipton and Whitley counties, have also amended their zoning ordinances to make setbacks on wind turbines, from non-participating residential dwellings, 2,640 feet.
Efforts by the News-Examiner seeking comment from Jeremy Ferrell, NextEra Energy Resources project manager for the Whitewater Wind Farm, regarding what impact a 2,640 setback ordinance, if approved in Fayette County, would have on the project were not answered by the newspaper’s deadline Tuesday.
The Fayette County Area Plan Commission has yet to meet with the Wind Project Concerned Citizens group concerning the county’s setback ordinance.
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