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Fulton Co. weighs proposed wind farm; Officials, consultants, supporters and opponents address residents

FULTON – Over 330 packed the Fulton Community Center Thursday night to hear from supporters and opponents of a proposed wind farm project along with government officials and those hired to assist with the endeavor.

Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, headquartered in Kings Langley, England, is pursuing erecting wind turbines in northern Cass County along with Fulton and Miami counties. The public event on Nov. 9 focused on the 133 turbines being proposed for Fulton County.

Brad Lila, director of development for RES, said the project would bring about $90 million to participating landowners, 60 to 80 permanent jobs and 300 to 400 construction jobs.

Aaron Ault of the Fulton County, IN Property Rights group, which opposes the project, also spoke at Thursday’s event.

“In this case, the options are simple,” Ault said. “Either the county stays an agricultural county or makes an instant change to an industrial wind county. The first, if it turns out to be a mistake, is fixable and temporary. If building the turbines turns out to be the mistake … then unfortunately it is a permanent mistake. There is no going back.”

The tax impact the project would have is not worth its effects and property values near the turbines would decline, Ault said. He also said the turbines create noise and shadow flickering that lead to health problems along with wind turbulence that would affect emergency helicopters and aircraft engaged in agricultural practices. Local fire departments are not equipped to battle blazes as high as commercial wind turbines, he went on to say.

Casi Cowles, Fulton County area plan director, addressed new setback rules being proposed for commercial wind turbines in the county.

One proposes a turbine must be a distance of 1 1/2 times its height from a nonparticipant’s property line. Another would require them to also be a distance of twice their height from nonparticipating residential dwellings.

Property line setbacks could be waived if a nonparticipating landowner next to a property with a turbine OKs it, Cowles also said.

The turbines would have to be 1,500 feet from the limits of an incorporated municipality, platted community or residential district, according to Cowles.

During Ault’s address, he spoke of the Fulton County, IN Property Rights group’s desire for the setbacks to be stricter.

No more than 30 hours per year or 30 minutes in one day of shadow flicker at a nonparticipating residence within a 1-mile radius of a turbine would be allowed, Cowles said. She added noise couldn’t be greater than 50 decibels when measured 50 feet from the foundation of the nearest nonparticipating dwelling.

If turbine owners fail to remedy complaints, the plan commission could take enforcement action through warnings and fines ranging from $50 to $2,000, Cowles said.

Cowles said maximum heights for commercial wind turbines are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Christopher Ollson, who researches renewable energy and its health impacts, said wind turbines don’t create significant health issues and their sound levels would not be a cause for concern under the proposed rules.

Jason Semler, a partner with H.J. Umbaugh & Associates, a financial consulting firm assisting with the project, spoke Thursday as well. He said RES’s $600 million investment would bring 50 turbines to Liberty Township, 70 to Wayne Township, 11 to Union Township and two to Rochester Township.

Assuming full depreciation, the investment would come with a total assessed value of about $177 million, Semler said. While revenue generated from property taxes are capped in Fulton County just like they are all over Indiana, Semler said the investment would still positively affect some funds, like those reserved for capital projects.

Semler said Fulton County’s cumulative capital development fund, which will raise about $260,000 in 2017, would raise about $305,000 a year if the wind farm came to fruition, for instance.

Tax rates in Fulton County would also see a reduction from the project, Semler said, adding Liberty Township’s would go from $1.35 to 93 cents.

Richard Hall, a partner with Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, the law firm assisting with the project, talked about three agreements the project would require. He said the road use agreement dictates how RES would improve the roads it would use to transport the large equipment needed for the project. The decommissioning agreement would outline how turbines would be deconstructed after going a year without producing any energy. Both would come with financial protection for Fulton County should RES not be able to fund their commitments outlined in the agreements.

An economic development agreement would address tax abatements RES would receive along with funds the company would give the county, Hall continued.

Cowles said all three of the agreements would have to be finished and approved by the county commissioners before the project would come to the plan commission for a development review. She added that would set the stage for engineering reports, site plans, a report confirming locations don’t interfere with migratory bird patterns, FAA approvals and other requirements.

Several in attendance shared their thoughts on the project. Those who support it praised it for the jobs it would create and its economic impact, while those against expressed doubts jobs would go to locals, described the tax benefits as being not worthwhile and predicting declining property values.