The winds of discord have blown through Henry County in recent years. Neighbor has sometimes stood against neighbor.
The courthouse has often been packed to overflowing as elected representatives weigh the potential benefits and hazards of erecting industrial windfarms in rural communities at all four corners of the county.
As of this writing, local wind turbine projects seem to have run their course with local decision-makers. A lawsuit is still working its way through the system to clarify whether or not those boards ever had authority to give a green light to the power producers in the first place.
How did we get here?
The Henry County Planning Commission amended their zoning ordinance Oct. 22, 2009, to include a Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) ordinance.
The purpose of the new WECS ordinance was “to assure that any development and production of wind-generated electricity in Henry County is safe and effective” and “to provide a regulatory scheme for the construction and operation of Wind Energy Facilities in Henry County, subject to reasonable restrictions, in order to preserve the public health, safety, and general welfare.”
The Henry County Commissioners approved the proposed amendment, and it was added to the Henry County Development Code.
The planning commission granted a commission-approved use (CAU) Aug. 26, 2010, for energy company Nordex to erect a meteorological tower or “met tower” in Lewisville.
The tower would allow Nordex to measure wind speed in Franklin Township as part of the Flat Rock Wind Project.
None of the planning commission members expressed opposition to the request, and there was no one from the public present to speak for or against it.
There wasn’t much public action concerning the southern Henry County wind farm project for the next two years.
On Aug. 22, 2012, when the Henry County Commissioners signed a letter of intent to hire the law firm of Barnes and Thornburgh to negotiate with the wind turbine company.
Kim Cronk, then-president of the commissioners, said at the time that Nordex had negotiated land contracts with farmers covering 28,000 acres of land.
The Henry County Commissioners agreed to pay $36,810 for legal fees associated with Nordex’s negotiations.
Nordex sells to Apex, NextEra enters
On May 27, 2014, Nordex USA announced that they had been bought by the company Apex Clean Energy. The acquisition meant that Apex now controlled the “wind energy assets” in Indiana, including the proposed Flat Rock Wind farm.
Apex reported Aug. 8, 2014, that they had more than “22,000 acres under lease” in Flat Rock Wind project area.
Two months later, on Oct. 8, the Henry County Commissioners approved formal talks between New Castle-Henry County Economic Development Commission and Whitewater Wind LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc.
Those talks centered about a possible wind farm in Dudley Township.
The Henry County Council granted Whitewater Wind LLC a tax abatement Nov. 26, 2014. On Dec. 10, the Henry County Commissioners approved Economic Development, Decommissioning, and Road Use Agreements with NextEra for the Whitewater Wind project.
The commissioners agreed Feb. 11, 2015 to pay $10,000 in up front legal fees for Apex while negotiating Economic Development, Decommissioning Agreement, Road Use, and Tax Abatement Agreements for the Flat Rock Wind Farm.
Apex agreed to repay the legal fees and more than $20,000 in fees that the commissioners had paid for Nordex.
The Henry County Commissioners voted April 22 to increase the legal fee payments associated with the Flat Rock Wind Farm to $15,000.
The Henry County Planning Commissioner granted a CAU to Apex Clean Energy four days later.
On May 21, 2015, the planning commission approved a wind project CAU for both Apex Clean Energy and NextEra.
Rush County pushes back
The Flat Rock Wind project by Apex was designed to have turbines in both southern Henry and northern Rush counties.
On July 1, 2015, the Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals increased wind turbine setbacks from 1,400 to 2,300 feet from non-participating landowners’ property lines.
The Henry County Commissioners voted July 8 to continue working with Flat Rock Wind to keep the project alive in southern Henry County.
According to the Henry County Auditor’s office, Apex Clean Energy Holdings LLC paid the county $22,255 Aug. 25 to cover Nordex’s past legal fees.
Rush County Commissioners voted Sept. 10 to cease negotiations with Apex Clean Energy and Flat Rock Wind Farm.
County transaction records show that Apex reimbursed the county $5,835 Nov. 20 and $2,109 Dec. 25, 2015, and $1,400 in Jan. 5, 2016. Their total reimbursement payments to Henry County equaled $31,599.
Community unsettled by Calpine plans
Public opinion about industrial wind farms in Henry County begin to change in December 2015 after a third energy company, Calpine, announced plans for its Big Blue River Wind Farm in northern Henry County.
On Jan. 27, 2016, the Henry County Commissioners approved economic development and decommissioning agreements with Apex Clean Energy, subject to approval of road use agreement by legal counsel.
Calpine representative was scheduled to request CAU from the planning commission April 21. However, Calpine requested “an indefinite continuance” for the proposed CAU.
The Henry County Council granted a 10-year tax abatement to Apex Clean Energy for Flat Rock Wind Project April 27.
The Henry County planning commission granted one year extension for CAUs of both the NextEra and Apex projects May 19. Members of the board voiced hesitation at the decision, but legal counsel advised them that it was a statutory requirement.
The county commissioners voted June 1 to form a WECS ordinance review committee.
Back in Rush County, the Rush Superior Court upheld the Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals decision to increase wind turbine setbacks in their county.
New Castle-Henry County Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Corey Murphy announced Sept. 4, 2016, that EDC staff will no longer pursue new wind farm development in Henry County.
The Henry County WECS committee dissolved Nov. 22, 2016 with a vote of 4-2.
Rush County BZA denied a special exception request from NextEra for the West Fork Wind Project. They announced Dec. 8 that any turbines constructed by NextEra in Rush County must adhere to a 2,640-foot setback from non-participating landowners, in addition to being 200 feet or less in height.
The Henry County Commissioners approved economic development, decommissioning, and road use agreements with Apex Clean Energy Dec. 14. Commissioner Ed Yanos abstains.
More legal challenges filed in 2017
On Jan. 13, 2017, NextEra requested a judicial review of Rush County BZA’s decision. A month later, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld Rush BZA’s action to increase wind turbine setbacks in July 2015.
The Henry County Commissioners approved an agreement Feb. 22 with Calpine to recoup up to $25,000 in legal fees that the county could incur in conjunction with developing the Big Blue River Wind Farm. Commissioner Kim Cronk abstained from the vote.
The planning commission granted two CAU requests to Calpine to erect met towers in northern Henry County.
Representatives from Apex and Flat Rock Wind and from NextEra and the West Fork Wind Project requested CAU extensions from the Henry County Planning Commission May 18. The planning commission tabled both requests because they lacked a majority vote either in favor of or against the requests.
A group of citizens from different parts of Henry County collectively filed suit May 19 against the Henry County Planning Commission, the Henry County Commissioners, and Big Blue River Wind Farm, requesting a judicial review of the WECS ordinance and the CAUs granted to the wind farm in April.
The commission-approved use for the Flat Rock Wind project expired May 21 but remains active until the planning commission makes an official vote on the company’s extension request.
The Henry County Commissioners voted May 24 to extend the economic development agreement with the West Fork Wind Project.
The commission-approved use for the West Fork Wind Project expire June 23 but also remains active until the Henry County Planning Commission makes an official vote.
West Fork and Flat Rock denied
The Henry County Planning Commission denied a one year extension July 20, 2017, for the CAU request from both NextEra Energy Inc. and its West Fork Wind Project and Apex Clean Energy and its Flat Rock Wind Project.
Henry County Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs said the energy companies have to start the CAU process all over if they wish to move forward with the proposed wind farms in southern Henry County.
As of press time, the judicial review requests against the Henry County WECS ordinance and Calpine met tower CAUs are still being challenged in court.