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Hard lessons can be learned from Tipton Co. wind turbine project

I recently read that Cass County was presented information about a possible wind farm project. When Tipton County went down this path, as a county commissioner, I missed a few due diligence items.

Setbacks: I did not take into account that the towers in Benton and White counties – at 350 feet in height and a setback from non-participating landowners of 1000 feet – should not be the standard setback in other counties where turbine heights were going to be 500 feet and over. The taller the tower, the greater the setback should be, and it should always be from the property line and never from the residential structure, as that limits the property owner full use of their property.

A local government should never use a non-participating landowner’s property as part of the setback because a person should be protected via a setback from all locations of their own property. Since I have now experienced the noise and shadow flicker in the homes of non-participating landowners at distances of even 1500 feet, I would recommend a 1/2 mile setback from the property line of any non-participating land owner.

Zoning regulations governing adequate setbacks are in place because there’s an obligation to insure public health and safety. Because this “economic development project” covers such a large geographical area of your county and affects numerous citizens, you cannot treat it the same way as another project that is confined to a few acres and affects only very few people. Protection of neighboring property values and enhancing the livability of your residents are the primary objectives of the zoning ordinance and are of paramount importance to the overall “general welfare” of your county. In this case, you have many property owners affected by “spinning skyscrapers” and their welfare should be prioritized over the deprivation of a few property owners’ land use for financial gain.

Property Values: The property values of the non-participating landowners within even a mile of the turbines will decrease. It may not show in the “assessed value,” but the stark reality is that the pool of people interested in living in a home close to the turbines is far less than those interested in homes far away from the turbines.

Jobs: No one in our county was qualified for the few permanent jobs and the 200 “local” jobs were given to union workers 50 miles away – and those jobs, of course, were temporary.

Community Partnership: In the first year, the company gave some sizable donations to various nonprofits and philanthropies, but after that they were absent from the community.

Other Facts: We have 69 turbines. Investment was $175 million. With abatement, the company will pay $3.5 million over 10 years in property taxes and $7 million in the next 10. Our financial consultant conveyed that this would amount to a mere $25-per-year decrease in most property tax bills. You can see the towers in the daylight easily from 8 miles away and at night the red blinking lights are visible from 15 to 20 miles. The turbines affect nearly everyone in your county in some way and it will most assuredly divide your community because the turbines are a constant reminder of conflicting views.

We’ve had 3 blade breaks in the 69 turbines. Our ordinance of a 1000-foot setback was inadequate in protecting our non-participating citizens and their testimonials of despair are real. After seeing what this project did to Tipton County – both aesthetically and to the quality of life for some – Howard and Grant Counties voted to terminate their relationship with the same wind company for “Phase II.” Clinton County tabled turbines. Marshall and Hamilton Counties banned turbines. Many other counties increased setbacks to a 1/2 mile for non-participating landowners. These neighboring counties learned a valuable lesson from our experience. If there had not been documentable adverse issues, then the aggressive actions of other counties to protect their citizens would never have occurred.

I live with the people who are adversely affected by industrial wind turbines and deeply regret having signed the documents enabling the construction of the wind farm.

This is why I am sharing my experience … so that you will not have to regret being a part of facilitating something that is a “windfall” to a few, but a curse to many. Incorporating greater setbacks to protect your non-participating landowners who were “there first,” and making sure other aspects of your ordinance are “airtight” with respect to how complaints are handled are critical. Our ordinance was extremely weak, and our naivety was taken advantage of.

I reach out to you for only one reason: I wish someone had done the same for me.

Jane Harper was a Tipton County commissioner from 2009-2012.