According to their lawyer, the Henry County Planning Commission members had no choice but to approve one-year extensions for the Commission Approved Use (CAU) permits for two wind farm projects that have moved forward in southern Henry County.
The planning commission approved CAUs for the NextEra Energy Resources and Apex Clean Energy in 2015. Neither company has begun construction.
Sean Row, who provides legal counsel for the planning commission, explained during Thursday’s meeting that the county code guarantees a one-year extension for companies building wind energy conversion systems (WECS) if the company has made progress, even if they haven’t started building wind turbines within the first year of the permit.
The Henry County Development Code gives county planners the authority to withdraw the permits “if construction in earnest” hadn’t begun after a year. The ordinance further states: “The Applicant shall be granted one (1) extension up to one (1) year … if the Applicant presents its request for an extension … which shows the progress made on the WECS Project.”
“‘Shall’ means that the board ‘will’ (grant the extension), provided that these applicants provide proof of additional progress,” Row told the commission Thursday evening.
The development code does not exactly define what “progress” means.
Apex representative Brenna Gunderson prepared a letter for the planning commission that outlined steps the company has taken over the past year with the Flat Rock Wind (Apex) project, which covers portions of Henry and Rush counties. Gunderson said the company has continued to monitor meteorological data in the area and installed a monitoring tower in Henry County within the past year.
The Flat Rock Wind project also received unanimous approval from the Henry County Commissioners for an economic development agreement and a decommissioning agreement. Gunderson said Apex has been in discussion with the county highway department over the past several months regarding a road use agreement.
The economic development agreement includes a series of four payments that Apex will make to Henry County over three years. The decommissioning agreement outlines under what circumstances a non-functioning turbine will be removed.
Additionally, Apex has conducted several Conversations on Wind presentations throughout the community, Gunderson said.
Planning commission president Steve Rust asked for a motion from the board to grant the CAU extension to APEX. None of the board members immediately spoke up. After 15 seconds, Dale Cole broke the silence.
“It doesn’t look like we have any choice, so I make the motion that we extend it,” Cole said.
The motion passed 6-0.
Attorney Mary Solada represented NextEra and sought a similar CAU extension for the Whitewater Wind Farm project. Solada told the planning commission that Whitewater has eight approved turbine locations in Henry County.
Solada reminded the planning commission that NextEra obtained their economic development, decommissioning and road use agreements from the Henry County Commissioners and Henry County Council in November and December 2014. The planning commission granted the original CAU to NextEra in June, 2015.
Since obtaining the CAU, NextEra obtained the three necessary agreements in Fayette County, where they are planning more than 50 turbines.
Rush County residents are working to stop a proposed wind farm in their area. Solada said even without those planned turbines, the Fayette and Henry County turbines are “actually enough for a project.”
The planning commission members again remained silent when Rust asked for a motion to extend the CAU. Row explained that the same code applied to the NextEra project. Joe Manis made the motion, and it passed 6-0.
Commission member Ed Yanos recused himself from the proceedings because he owns property that could be affected by both projects. Steve Dugger was not present at Thursday’s meeting.
Following the motions, the planning commission heard from Vernon Cherrett, a Henry County resident from south of Cadiz. Cherrett asked the planning commission to strengthen the Henry County wind turbine ordinances. The long-time engineer argued that a lot had changed in the understanding of wind turbines since the ordinances were instated in 2009.
“We as citizens of Henry County ask that the wind turbine ordinance be upgraded to reflect what is now known about these installations,” Cherrett said.
The development code is no longer based on historical needs, engineering and scientific methods of study.
Cherrett told the commission that the current rules provide a safety zone or “setback” based on how far ice could be thrown from a turbine. The setbacks should be increased to at least one half-mile to protect from blade failure, Cherrett said.
“Setbacks are the first line of defense for citizens of Henry County,” he said. “This ordinance needs to be strengthened.”
Cherrett also suggested that industrial wind turbines should be subject to the same noise ordinances as other industrial sites. Cherrett asked for “a champion” on the planning commission to completely rework the Wind Energy Conversion Systems ordinances.
The wind farm protesters in the audience gave Cherrett a standing ovation when he finished his presentation.
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