Proposed wind turbines spur debate; Setbacks, firefighting, health of residents among issues stirred up
The wind is kicking up in a debate over a project that would dot northern Cass County with energy-producing towers.
Opponents say local rules that would govern the proposed wind turbines are weak. They claim the turbines create health issues. They wonder how the turbines will affect aerial application on farm fields and if local firefighters are equipped to handle a blaze atop one. They criticize what they call county officials’ lack of accessibility on the issue.
Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, an international company headquartered in England with a U.S. headquarters in Colorado, is pursuing as many as 150 wind turbines about 600 feet tall in Adams, Bethlehem, Boone and Harrison townships in Cass County. RES also wants to erect turbines in Fulton and Miami counties, although Fulton County Commissioners took a stance against the project last month when they voted to remove wind turbine rules from the county’s zoning ordinance.
Call for setback reform
Rules in Cass County require wind turbines to be a distance of 1.1 times their height from property lines, 1,000 feet from residences and 1,500 feet from incorporated limits. Cass County officials based the rules on White County’s.
But the White County-based Meadow Lake Wind Farm’s turbines stand half as tall as the ones being proposed for Cass County. Because RES’ towers would be taller, setbacks should be farther, critics of the Cass County wind project say.
That would require approval from the county plan commission and commissioners.
Jim Sailors, president of both bodies, said there are no plans to change the setbacks, maintaining the ones currently in effect are safe for 600-foot turbines.
Wind at West Central
The campus hosting West Central School Corp.’s about 775 K-12 students in Francesville has had a 321-foot wind turbine on it since 2012. It helps with the corporation’s energy costs and at one point was part of the curriculum offered there.
Don Street, superintendent of West Central School Corp., said the wind turbine stands about 400 yards, or 1,200 feet from the campus complex.
In the over five years the wind turbine has been on campus, Street said no students or faculty have attributed health problems to it.
Vibrations cannot be felt from the turbine, Street continued, adding occasionally the blades create a sound he described as a light whoosh. Some shadow flicker occurs depending on the location of the sun and which direction the wind turbine’s blades are facing, he also said.
Street said the turbine’s distance from the complex is far enough to quell concerns about ice being launched off blades and blades falling off.
“It’s been a positive experience for West Central,” Street said of the turbine.
North Newton School Corp., Tippecanoe Valley School Corp., Northwestern School Corp. in Howard County and Shenandoah School Corp. all have commercial wind turbines on their campuses as well.
Monticello-based Townsend Aviation provides aerial spraying, seeding and fertilizer application services. Brian Townsend, a pilot with the company, said a wind turbine in a farm field is an obstacle for a pilot, but one they can identify and avoid.
Pilots have to be just as aware of wind turbines in adjacent fields, he said. Aerial application planes fly below the height of turbine blades while distributing, he continued, but need to rise to a higher altitude to turn around for their next pass. It takes a half mile to turn around, Townsend went on to say, and at 150 mph it’s even more important to be aware of any tall objects in the vicinity.
How wind turbines are placed affects an airplane’s navigability too, Townsend said, adding a straight row of them is more manageable than a random cluster.
Townsend Aviation also uses helicopters for aerial application, which Townsend said are slower and more maneuverable than an airplane. He said he company often uses helicopters when applying near wind turbines.
Critics of the proposed wind project in Cass County have expressed concerns about how local fire departments would respond to a fire 600 feet in the air, should flames ever break out atop a wind turbine.
Royal Center Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ed Schroder and Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Musselman said neither of their departments are equipped to handle a blaze that high.
Ty Rowan, a firefighter with the Cass County Fire District, said he wasn’t sure if his department’s equipment could handle such a fire, but assumed wind turbine owners would provide equipment and training to do so.
A RES representative did not return a request for comment.
The Cass County Commissioners meet at 1 p.m. on the first Monday of each month and 9 a.m. on the third Monday of each month in the Commissioners Hearing Room on the second floor of the Cass County Government Building, 200 Court Park.
One of their monthly meetings was formerly at 6 p.m., but the commissioners changed it due to drawing public attendances of little to none.
Northern Cass County residents have expressed a desire for meetings to be scheduled outside typical work hours to allow more people to attend.
Sailors said there’s no plans to do so.
“We’re not going to change our meetings from day to night just because of one issue,” he said.
Fulton County hosted an evening meeting last month with presentations on the project from a financial adviser, attorney, RES representative, county planning official and a resident representing opponents of the project. Attendees were able to submit questions and make comments.
Sailors said Cass County “will never have” a meeting like that, adding those who attended the Fulton County meeting did not listen to information shared in favor of the project and only listened to information against it.
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