Shannon Thom, chief executive officer of REMC, likened the advent of wind power to the introduction of electricity to rural America in the 1930s and 1940s Thursday at the Henry County Planning Commission hearing for Flat Rock Wind Farms.
“People wondered ‘what will happen if there is a storm?'” Thom said of the invention already common by that time in metropolitan areas. “Will the wires fall down and kill the cattle?”
Esthetics was also a concern in the early days of electricity. Who wanted to look at those unsightly poles that would line the roads, Thom said. This new-fangled electricity was nothing more than harnessed lightening, an intimidating thought to many.
Ten people in a crowd of about 175 spoke in favor of the proposed Flat Rock windfarm that could bring $100 million to Franklin and Dudley townships and $200 million more to northern Rush County.
Eight spoke against. Flat Rock received a unanimous approval from the planning commission.
South Henry School District Superintendent Wes Hammond spoke in favor of the project.
“In 2011, the school signed with Nordex and has been waiting patiently for this project to go through since,” Hammond said. Nordex was a previous, unrelated wind farm project that did not come to fruition.
Verlin Custer, northern Rush County resident, said that the substantial income generated by the project and the impact it would have can’t be underestimated.
“We’ve got the potential for $300 million in Rush and Henry counties, and we got people throwing rocks at them. It doesn’t make any sense,” Custer said.
Apex Senior Development Manager for Flat Rock Rob Propes said the project will deliver 200 temporary construction jobs, about 12 permanent jobs, economic development money, and approximately $11 million in lease payments over 20 year, after the project finds a buyer for the wind the turbines will produce. Propes said construction will not begin until after a buyer is contracted.
Those who spoke against primarily voiced questions regarding health issues, property values, environmental impact, and where the profits would go.
Sharon Mullen, southern Henry County resident, said her home will be in the epicenter of windfarms being built in the southern Henry County and northern Rush County areas. She has concerns about the effects of shadow flicker on her granddaughter, who has seizures.
“I don’t want to take any chances,” Mullen said. “We can’t move them after they are built.”
Tony Lowhorn, southern Henry County resident, said he and Mullen don’t fully oppose the windfarm, but advocate for appropriate setbacks to ensure residents are far enough from the turbines.
“Do it safe. Do it right. Do it responsibly,” Lowhorn said.
“I can guarantee you I wouldn’t move into that area if I saw wind turbines. I want to be able to sit on my porch and relax,” Rush County resident Steve Linville said.
David Spencer, who lives only a mile over the northwest Fayette county line, warned that state and federal standards aren’t typically applicable.
“The industry would lead you to believe it’s highly regulated. Such is not the case,” Spencer said. “You can’t rely on state or the federal government to set the standard. You are the standard.”
Flat Rock Wind provided four specialists who defined the project’s scope.
Richard Lampeter of Epsilon Associates quoted recent studies indicating no significant health impact from wind turbines. Lampeter cited an epilepsy foundation study discounting any relationship between seizures and wind turbine shadow flicker. Such flicker can also be minimized by proper planning, such as layout modifications and window treatments, he said.
Rush County attorney Leigh Morning has shepherded the project through the legal system for both Rush and Henry Counties.
“Neither county has decided how any payments would be spent,” Morning said, indicating it was too soon in the process for the counties to have made such decisions. Benefits would be allocated to more entities than the schools, Morning said.
After the planning commission approved the project, Propes was excited.
“This is exciting for the company, and exciting for the land owners who’ve been working toward this project for three years.” Landowners signed the first contracts in 2012.
William Hughes, attorney for Apex, said goals are keeping wind energy safe and effective, developing economic development opportunities for Henry County, reducing carbon-based emissions, and coordinating a regulatory scheme. Hughes praised Henry County’s WECS ordinance, calling it “rigorous.”
“We take environmental concerns very seriously,” Dave Phillips of Apex said. Studies profiling the turbine’s environmental and cultural impact have been completed, and consider the area’s wildlife and pioneer history. Phillips said the only area species impacted greatly would be two types of native bats.
Several more approvals, including road use, remain before the farm can be built.
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