More than two years ago, wind turbines began dotting the landscape of rural Randolph County.
Little has changed for at least some of the owners of the land on which the turbines sit.
The county’s nearly 100 turbines are owned and operated by the same company, EDP Renewables North America LLC, which is exploring the possibility of bringing another 100 to Wayne County in the coming years.
These plans have caused backlash from area residents and business owners: concerns over the turbines’ impact on the land value and the future development of the county’s smaller cities, among other issues.
On Monday, the county will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. in commissioners chambers at the annex building, as the Wayne County Advisory Plan Commission weighs its options for a recommendation to the commissioners.
The meeting will allow members of the public to discuss why they favor or oppose a proposed change by the commissioners to replace county ordinances’ language allowing for turbines with a requirement to seek a special zoning variance to bring them into the county.
Just north of Wayne County, turbines’ giant blades continue to spin day and night, so long as the wind is right, on dozens of parcels across Randolph County. For the most part, little or no issues are seen with the turbines’ operation, a pair of property owners told the Palladium-Item in recent weeks.
Each of the landowners said they were surprised to hear of the uproar in Wayne County, and although they understand the concerns those in the area might have – they each had some themselves before agreeing to allow their property to be used – many of those are trivial, in their eyes.
Duane Sickels, who owns nearly 600 acres throughout the county and has four turbines on his various properties, said he thinks there’s little credence to the idea that the turbines would harm Wayne County.
“I think it’s a bit silly to think these things could (hurt) the county in such a big way,” Sickels said. “They’re not hurting me one bit. … You really don’t notice them after a while.”
Wind farmer looks to expand
When EDP started operating its Randolph County wind farm, formally called Headwaters, it stoked the interest of some in neighboring counties, including people living in northern Wayne who could, from their property, see the turbines spinning in the distance.
The company first showed interest in Wayne and Henry counties in early 2015, and similar projects since have been proposed in Fayette and Rush counties.
EDP recently filed a map of proposed new turbine sites in Wayne, Randolph and Henry counties with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure the proposed locations wouldn’t have an impact on air traffic. That is among the first formal steps a wind farm company takes when seriously considering an area for build-out.
In Wayne County, the proposed sites shown on the map generally were in the area north of Hagerstown as well as north and west of Economy.
Two representatives of EDP made a presentation to the Wayne County commissioners in April 2015, saying then that if the company were to build a wind farm in Wayne County, the towers would be 300 feet tall with a blade span of 495 feet. The project cost was estimated at the time at $1.5 million-$2 million.
EDP Project Manager Jeffrey Nemeth told the Palladium-Item by phone Thursday the figures are closer to between 492 and 600 feet in height.
“We haven’t selected a turbine for this project yet, and that’s something we are still evaluating,” he said. “But (those) are the heights we are looking at for this particular situation.”
EDP doesn’t have plans to pose a permit request to the county, Nemeth said. The project in Wayne County would be called Headwaters II if it gets off the ground. In October, EDP invited the owners of property being considered for the new wind farm to Winchester for a meeting, which was conducted by Nemeth.
Richmond business owner Roger Richert, who lives in Randolph County near Losantville, attended the meeting. He said he didn’t like many of the things he heard from the project manager.
For example, Nemeth reportedly told attendees that if flickering from the turbines – which happens when the blades pass in front of the sun as it shines through the window of a home – is a problem, EDP would pay for heavy-duty drapes.
“That’s not why I moved to the country,” Richert said.
Sickels said the flickering does happen on occasion at his home, but it’s very rare and lasts no longer than one or two weeks a year.
“We have some flickering when the sun is just right, in January at about 5 p.m. It lasts about 15 minutes, and you do notice it,” he said. “(But) the flicker effect we see here doesn’t last that long.”
Going against the wind farm
Unhappy with the things he heard at the meeting, Richert conducted further research on wind farms and their impact on communities. He then joined the local group, Wayne County Indiana Against Industrial Wind Turbines, which has had an active Facebook page since April 2015.
Richert has been helping the group finance yard signs and billboards that are against bringing a wind farm to Wayne County. He also has hired Stephen Snyder, an attorney with Snyder Morgan LLP in Syracuse, Ind., who is experienced in wind farm litigation to help prevent the proposed Headwaters expansion project.
Richert said he isn’t against renewable energy or even wind farms in the right places, where the population is limited, but he doesn’t think Wayne County is an ideal home for such a project.
A member of many community and business boards, Richert said these days everyone is talking about “quality of life,” especially in regards to luring businesses to locate in Wayne County, and he believes a wind farm would damage the county’s quality of life.
“It’s a mobile society. People live where they want to live. Has anyone ever moved to a community because of a wind farm? All they’re doing is a building a giant wall (of wind turbines) that says, ‘Stay out,’” Richert said.
As a property owner in the area where the wind farm might be built, Richert also has been approached about leasing his land to the project. He said no.
Mary Anne Butters, a Wayne County commissioner who lives in a rural part of the county, also said she received a call from an EDP surveyor and although she would never lease land to the company – it would be a conflict of interest because she has a say in how the company can do business in the county – she was intrigued by the kinds of questions she was asked.
“They asked me about the land history and the environmental quality of the area,” she said. “They really were diligent in their line of questioning.”
Butters said her biggest concern with the wind farms is that they would be located in areas that could be used for further development by the county, whether it’s through housing or industrial projects.
“You really don’t want to see that go away,” she said. “We are trying hard to boost the population of the county, and if (farms) come in and take the land that could serve … better uses, it would end up being a waste of our resources.”
Butters said she has been told the property owners who do lease land to the business typically make thousands of dollars from the deals.
Nemeth said property owners are paid between $8,000 and $12,000 per year per turbine for allowing EDP to use their property. They also receive other incentives, including paying the difference on changes in property taxes as a result of the turbines and the building of access roads, which property owners are permitted to use to tend to their acreage.
“It makes about 75 landowners a lot of money at the expense of the other 67,000 (residents),” Richert said.
The ostensible impact of wind turbines on physical health, land values and water sources all concern Richert, as do the government subsidies that support wind farms and the reported long-term damages to the land that is used for wind-farming. There are a multitude of studies and reports showing ill effects of wind farms, just as there are a number of studies that speak to the positives of wind energy and turbines.
“I’ve done so much homework,” he said.
Richert worries about the future of Wayne County, which has been experiencing a population decline for years.
“We’ve got to protect this county,” he said. “You don’t want to turn this county into a giant industrial park. I’m passionate about it because I think it’s bad for the county.”
A different spin on wind
Sickels and fellow farmer Chris Retter both said they’re happy to be living among the turbines and any issues they’ve had have been quickly resolved by EDP.
Each man has four on his property. The Retter family farms around another 12 on rental property, while the Sickels farm around two more on rented land.
Retter said although it took a little while to get used to, and while it was difficult working the fields at the time of construction, things have toned down and he hardly notices them anymore.
“We are (right) in the middle of the wind farm,” Retter said. “But you really don’t pay much attention to them.”
He said those he’s met who don’t favor wind farms aren’t directly involved or affected by the installation of the turbines.
“(Even) if it’s not on their property, they don’t want them,” Retter said. “We’ve heard some wacky things.”
When the Headwaters Wind Farm first was proposed for Randolph County, Retter was among the local farmers who took time to visit the wind farms in Benton County, near Lafayette. He said those turbines are smaller and located more closely together than the ones in Randolph County.
Benton was the first Indiana county to be home to a wind farm, and there now is a total of four farms there with a combined 560 turbines. The Benton County government website mentions many of the positives wind farms have brought to the county, which is home to about 8,600 people, including the popularity of “wind tours.”
One of the biggest issues Richert has raised about the wind farms is that by entering Wayne County, the turbines will cover the landscape of a much more populated county than the ones in which wind energy is generally supported.
“There are a lot of people living in this county,” he said. “A lot more here than there are in the counties the turbines are in already. And this is going to impact a lot of people. It’s going to change the way things are done around here, and it’s going to impact businesses.”
Retter and Sickels both said they don’t foresee that being an issue, particularly because – although Wayne is among the top 30 counties in Indiana for population – there is a huge disparity between putting turbines in a county its size and ones the size of Allen (Fort Wayne) or Tippecanoe (Lafayette) counties.
“My understanding is there’s a lot of land in Wayne County that is available for development, and from what I’ve seen, there is plenty of space for the county to expand (industry and residence areas) and to have these turbines,” Sickels said.
Both men spoke in generally positive terms about the turbines, but Retter admits there were things that took place during and after the development that they didn’t anticipate.
“We use a drone to fly over fields to check them,” he said. “We can’t be as close (to the ground) now as before.”
More drainage tiles in the fields were damaged than had been projected, and repairing them was a major disruption, Retter said. However, he said EDP has made good on its promise to fix any problems, and the tiles have been repaired.
Sickels experienced a similar tile issue on his property. He also was pleased with the company’s repair to the problems and even listened when he recommended an additional line of tile be added in one field, making the drainage better than before the wind turbines arrived.
“There are more miles of tile in the county than miles of county roads,” Sickels said.
Speaking of roads, during the construction process, many Randolph County roads, some of which already were in poor shape, were heavily damaged.
“During construction, it was a mess. They were slow getting our ditches done,” Sickels said. “(But) they’ve gone over and above on replacing tile. I haven’t heard anybody complain in a long time.”
When the construction was complete, EDP apparently rebuilt the roads, greatly improving them.
“The county has 22 miles of newly paved, well-maintained roads because of the turbines,” Nemeth said. “That’s really free investment in infrastructure for the county because of our work.”
Retter said EDP has done everything they said they would do when he signed the decadeslong leases with the company, and Sickels said the roads are in better shape than ever before.
“Our roads are so much better than they’ve ever been,” Sickels said. “It’s really something.”
Some say the access roads to the wind turbines are unsightly and trespassers might take advantage of the rural access to fields and woods.
But Retter and Sickles said they haven’t had problems with trespassers and find the access roads handy during planting and harvest seasons, helping them reach areas that previously were inaccessible or hard to get to.
A smaller issue for Sickels was that he experienced a problem receiving TV channels via antenna after the turbines were installed. When he brought it to the attention of EDP, the company provided him with satellite television and pays the fees.
“I don’t have any complaints,” Sickels said.
And to those who have concerns about the noise produced by the turbines, he said the sound isn’t offensive. On the days he does hear it, he said, the noise reminds him of waves hitting the beach.
“A lot of people spend a lot of money to hear the ocean,” Sickels said.
Although the noise is amplified by high humidity and foggier days, Retter said, the turbines often don’t even receive enough wind to turn. And when the wind reaches gusts of 50 mph, the turbines shut off for safety purposes.
“It has been amazing to me how many calm days we have. I didn’t realize how many days don’t have wind,” he said.
Some people, Richert said, just don’t like to see the towering structures standing amid the natural landscape, but Retter isn’t one of them.
“I think they’re majestic,” he said. “It changes the landscape. They’ll last 30 years.”
But perhaps Retter has become immune to towers in his view; just across the road from his barnyard is what once was a microwave tower. It still functions as a relay for other signals, he said, causing it to flash from time to time.
Financial and future impact
Retter said they got to know the workers who came to Randolph County to install the turbines and that was beneficial to the area. Their long-term residency provided income to hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
The wind farm also has brought more money into the county for local projects and for the schools, Retter said.
Randolph County, he said, has been able “to do things for us that they haven’t had the money to do for years.”
The wind turbines also are providing much-needed income for the farmers.
“When we did this, farming income was at an all-time high,” Retter said. “Now, farming has taken a major downward turn. It (the lease income) may be the only profit we see.”
“For the amount of acres, it’s 10 times what you’d get off it if you were farming,” he said. “It’s lucrative to landowners.”
“They’re producing power from otherwise wasted wind,” Retter said.
Sickels believes those who fight development of wind farms are doing a disservice to future generations.
“They tell us there is a limited supply of oil under us,” Sickels said. “For the sake of our great-grandchildren … we cannot go along until we run out of oil. We need to be prepared. I don’t know that wind energy is the answer, but I don’t know it isn’t.”
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