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Should Indiana have statewide zoning for wind turbines? General Assembly interim committee considers question

Indiana should not regulate statewide zoning requirements for wind turbine development, those in the industry said Thursday, despite requests from Hoosiers who favor state controls to assure consistency.

But the discussion in front of an Indiana General Assembly interim legislative committee on energy became at times a general debate about the merits of wind energy, particularly in rural areas where no zoning ordinances may be in effect.

Proponents of wind turbines cited economic benefits to local communities and asked that communities be allowed to determine zoning options. Opponents said the windmills devalue property and increase noise, among other concerns.

“I’ve lived in the same house for 60 years and I like to get to get up and see the sunrise, not a bunch of metal and things flying around,” Michael Thompson, a resident of Clinton County told the Interim Study Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications.

Opposition from people like Thompson has stopped some wind turbine companies from being able to grow in Indiana. Now, lawmakers are weighing the rights of local government to limit turbine expansion and the desire to provide some uniformity to zoning to encourage industry growth.

On the other side was Bob Zahn, a board member with the Tipton County Foundation who cited financial benefits.

“I realize money is not everything, but it does take money to run a county,” he said. “I realize that change is difficult for many people … but do they have a revenue alternative if they’re able to defeat wind in these counties?”

Tipton County, which shares a wind farm with neighboring Madison County, has received more than $795,000 in property taxes and $1.2 million for economic development from the farm, said County Auditor Greg Townsend. Wind farm operator E.ON Climate and Renewables North America Inc. has also rebuilt 25 miles of roads, he said.

Bruce Buchanan, a farmer and a Benton County Council member, said income to the county from wind turbine farms has helped fund town and township projects.

“We would not have paramedics today if it were not for windmills,” he said.

Opponents urged the committee to push wind turbine firms to be more transparent in presenting projects to communities.

Last session, State Rep. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville, introduced a bill that would establish a setback, initially 2,200 feet, from a dwelling where windmills could be set up. The bill would have established disclosure requirements for developers and set penalties for a public servant who committed a conflict of interest. The bill did not pass from committee.

Saunders said it might not have been a “a perfect bill” but he asked the committee to look into legislation clarifying requirements for notification by wind turbine companies to residents as well as considering consideration to address conflicts of interest among elected officials who could lease land to the companies and also vote on projects.

“What about the counties that have no local zoning?” Saunders asked the committee. “Do they not need some assistance to preserve their property rights?”

Two wind turbine proponents, both of whom lease land for windmills, are also elected officials. Steve Burton, a White County commissioner, spoke in favor of wind turbines, as did Buchanan.