Tension was high Wednesday night as NextEra took the stage to present their project, West Fork Wind Energy Center.
NextEra presented the project to the Board of Zoning Appeals in hopes the wind farm project would move forward.
After almost four hours, it was decided that the decision be tabled for 30 days.
Zach Melda, NextEra’s project manager, said the project would be spread throughout Fayette, Henry and Rush Counties. Rush County would be looking at about 22 turbines while Henry would have nine and Fayette 56. He stated in a slideshow that this area was ideal for the project due to strong and consistent wind levels, availability and proximity to electricity transmission lines, willing landowners, supportive community and well positioned market location.
NextEra’s presentation consisted of topics such as community benefits, sound and health studies, operations and management, setbacks, land value impact and environmental studies.
Melda explained that there were several benefits to this project such as over $82 million local investments, creates five to 10 full time jobs and 250 construction jobs, and provides approximately $9 million in landowner lease payments.
After presenting the project to the board, Ted Hartke of Vermilion County, Illinois, spoke for 45 minutes about how wind farms made him abandon his home and the noise was unbearable.
Hartke lived in an area with four turbines surrounding his home. The county had 138 wind turbines that were 495 foot tall. The nearest turbine was 1,665 feet from his home. Hartke no longer lives in this home; he abandoned his home and left the area.
“I used to live in Vermilion County, Illinois. When the project first came to the area, I was very interested in it. They began construction of the turbines around my house and as soon as they turned on, I knew what the real truth was,” Hartke said. “The turbines next to my house are 495 feet tall. I believe these turbines next to my house are similar to the ones that are coming here.”
Hartke presented a slide providing pictures of his home that showed where the turbine was located in regards to his home.
Hartke complained that he and his family were not getting any sleep. His daughter wore ear muffs to bed and later the entire family moved their beds to the living room where they tried to get more sleep since the sound was slightly less. The family was still unable to sleep and, in time, they abandoned the home and moved away.
“People thought we were pretty desperate because we were sleeping in our living room with the kids,” Hartke said. “It really hurt our marriage.”
The Illinois resident urged that the BZA consider his experience and hoped it would help others open their eyes and see what factors come with having a wind turbine nearby.
After Hartke’s presentation, less than 10 individuals spoke for two minutes each in support of the wind project.
Those who supported stated they had done their research and invited the project to the area with hopes that it will bring revenue and new opportunities to the area. They also stated they didn’t think the noise would be an issue and some had visited wind turbines in other locations in Indiana.
Those opposed to the project then stepped forward and spoke. Many stated the project would cause loud noises, the turbines were an eye sore, health would be affected, they would hurt the environment and that right now this project wasn’t needed in this area.
Near the end of the meeting, the BZA board asked a few questions about the project before they decided to table it.
The board asked NextEra if they would be willing to increase the setback. NextEra’s previous Project Manager Jeremy Ferrell stated that they had already spent over four years on the project and about $4 million dollars and would be willing to increase it slightly to perhaps 1,500 feet, but didn’t want to go past that setback. The board then asked if they would decrease the height of the turbines and Ferrell stated that decreasing the height would defeat the purpose and they would also have to add more turbines to make up for the lost energy. The BZA hoped that decreasing the height would decrease the noise, but that was found false.
“It (the height) really doesn’t matter, it is not a significant factor,” Ferrell said. “When GE does their sound testing, they test the unit as a whole. It is all taken into consideration. The higher you go, the more wind you capture. If they were shorter turbines, it would reduce the energy. You wouldn’t be able to produce as much energy if it was shorter. We are dependent on the height as far as the megawatts we are able to generate.
“We did a 40% increase on the setbacks already, I think part of the other issue is by increasing it we actually have to have another public hearing, we have to notify more people and that is a drawn out process that we are not necessarily interested in. We are open to discussion on a slight increase.”
The board decided that they needed more time to research before they could make a decision.
The meeting to make a decision will be held after the BZA meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 14 in the Commissioners Room at the courthouse.