NEW CASTLE – Another potential obstacle to wind farm development in Henry County has been removed.
The Henry County Commissioners met Wednesday and voted to approve a road use agreement with Flat Rock Wind, LLC, a division of Apex Clean Energy. The approved agreement mirrors the road use specifications the commissioners approved with NextEra for another wind farm being considered for the southeast part of the county originally proposed as the Whitewater Wind Project.
With respect to Apex, an economic development agreement, which details the economic benefits of a wind farm in Henry County, and a decommissioning agreement, which specifies who is responsible for taking the giant wind turbines down at some point in the future, were approved by the county leaders in May.
Should Flat Rock Wind decide to proceed, the hurdles left for them to clear are approval of an improved location permit and a building permit through the Henry County Planning Commission office. If it is determined the project meets local ordinance requirements, Henry County Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs would be hard-pressed to deny the energy company’s request, county attorney Scott Hayes said.
The commissioners’ decision on the road use agreement, which requires the developer to repair any damage to local roads, ditches or drainage tiles that take place during installation of wind turbines, came after roughly an hour of discussion and testimony. Eleven people spoke against approval of the agreement and/or wind farm development and one person spoke in favor of approving the agreement.
Susan Huhn described the Apex project as a mess and asked the commissioners to clean it up. She said the Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) ordinance, which details what wind developers can and cannot do in Henry County, is inadequate, and urged the commissioners to make Apex re-apply under terms and conditions of an improved WECS ordinance.
Gary Rodgers said the road use agreement suffered from a number of problems including the fact it was a negotiated deal. He suggested the county set standards that are in the best interest of Henry County citizens and let interested companies either meet those standards or go elsewhere. He also said the ordinance lacked enforcement provisions and penalties for failure to comply.
Others shared concerns about the turbines potential impact on the health of those living near them, their potential for decreasing property values and their impact on the visual aesthetics of Henry County’s rural landscape.
After listening to audience members, commissioner Butch Baker shared his thoughts.
“We do not have a road agreement. Next week they could come and ask for a permit, and as Mr. Hayes has said, it’s going to be hard for the county not to issue a permit if they have all of their ducks in a row,” Baker said. “So, if we don’t pass an agreement between them and the county, then we’re not protecting the county.”
Baker went on to say this was not about whether the commissioners are for or against wind farm development, it is about making sure Apex is responsible for repairing any damages caused during construction of a wind farm.
Commissioner Kim Cronk pointed out discussion of wind farm development has been taking place locally since 2011 and that for the first five years or more there was very little input from the public despite repeated requests from county officials for people to share their opinions and more than 50 stories in local newspapers about the possibility of wind turbines being located here.
Cronk eventually made a motion not to approve a road use agreement proposed by Apex. That motion passed 3 to 0.
Baker then made a motion to approve a road use agreement nearly identical to the measure approved for NextEra, which he said held the wind developer to higher standards. This motion passed 2 to 0 with commissioner Ed Yanos abstaining.
Flat Rock Wind, LLC officials did not respond to a request for comment in time for inclusion in this story.
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