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Votes lacking for wind project extensions

The Henry County Planning Commission did not have enough votes either way at the most recent meeting to approve or deny requests from two separate wind farm companies who wanted a second one-year extension of the commission-approved uses (CAUs) that will let each company continue to develop their industrial wind turbine projects in the southern part of the county.

The requests remain in limbo this week due to a split-vote between commission members, an absentee and an abstention.

NextEra Energy Inc. and Apex Clean Energy are both developing industrial wind farm projects in the southern part of Henry County. The planning commission granted a one-year commission approved use (CAU) extension to each company in May 2016.

Attorney Mary Solada represented NextEra at the Thursday meeting and asked the planning commission to extend their CAU to June 23, 2018. At that time, the proposed wind farm was called the Whitewater Wind Farm project. The name has since been changed to the West Fork Wind project.

Solada told the planning commission that NextEra has spent the last year supporting and developing the West Fork Wind project. The finished project could include up to nine turbines in the southeastern corner of Henry County, she said.

Solada pointed out that the Henry County Council granted NextEra’s request for a tax abatement extension in March, giving the company until the end of 2018 to complete the wind farm project.

“I can tell you this is the final extension request for West Fork Wind,” Solada told the planning commission. “We are very confident that if we are breaking ground by June of next year, we will be done by the end of next year.”

The West Fork Wind project has been hampered by legal challenges in Rush County. Solada said the delays will not impact the Henry County turbines. She said Fayette County has granted all the necessary approvals for their proposed turbine sites.

“I want to assure you that this project can move forward without Rush County,” Solada said.

West Fork Wind Project Manager of Wind Development Zachery Melda told the planning commission that, if the CAU extension was granted, he would expect turbines to be delivered by June 13, 2018 and a “commercial operating date” of Nov. 13, 2018.

Henry County Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs told the planning commission it needed a motion to either approve the CAU extension or to deny the extension. Jacobs later said the commission could have taken no action and allowed the CAU to expire. The current expiration date is scheduled for June 23, 2017.

Planning commissioner Dan Roach made a motion to deny the extension request and planning commissioner Randy Jones seconded. The vote was 3-4 in favor of denying the vote, with Robin Fleming joining Roach and Jones.

Planning commission president Steve Rust and members Justin Curley, Rachel Clark and Olene Veach voted against the motion to deny the extension. Planning commissioner Dale Cole was absent Thursday, and planning commissioner Ed Yanos abstained from voting due to declared conflicts of interest.

Jacobs explained the planning commission needed a majority of its nine-member board to vote for any given motion before it could legally take action, meaning they need at least five votes one way or the other.

The planning commission voted to reset the NextEra CAU extension request at its June 15 meeting when Cole is expected to return.

The second CAU extension request came from Apex about the Flatrock Wind Project that is proposed south of Interstate 70.

Attorney Bob Ehereman told the planning commission that the Henry County Commissioners have already approved the three necessary agreements with Flatrock Wind for the project to move forward.

As with NextEra, the Apex project has been stymied by litigation in Rush County.

“The Henry County project, regardless of what happens in Rush County, will be a standalone project,” Ehereman said.

Erin Wiedower, senior development manager with Flat Rock Wind LLC, outlined the expected milestones of the wind farm, if the CAU extension was approved.

An extension for the project will show potential electricity purchasers that Flat Rock Wind is a viable project, Wiedower said.

“This would really be a very big and firm step for us to be able to get to the point we need to be to make this project a reality,” Wiedower told the planning commission.

Clark made a motion this time to approve the CAU request and Curley seconded. The vote was 4-3, with commission members taking the same positions they had with the preceding request.

The planning commission voted to rehear the CAU extension request from Apex at its June meeting.

The Henry County Planning Commission meets again at 6:30 p.m. June 15 at the county courthouse, 101 S. Main St., New Castle.