Montgomery County Commissioners turned down proposals from a wind energy group after expressing too many concerns and a number of questions at their meeting Monday.
A crowd of supporters and opposers packed the Crawfordsville City Council chambers to hear commissioners discuss a series of proposed agreements from Roaming Bison Wind, LLC which is a Montgomery County project of Apex Clean Energy. This comes two months after commissioners made changes to the county’s wind ordinance reducing the noise produced by wind turbines and adjustments to the requirements for setbacks.
Three separate agreements were presented to commissioners, including an economic development plan, a county road use and drainage repair agreement and a decommissioning plan.
“A lot of this is not in compliance with our Chapter 155 ordinance that we passed,” Commissioners president Jim Fulwider said. “If we’re not going to stand behind an ordinance that we put in place, then why make ordinances if we’re not going to stand behind them? … The proposed agreements are not in compliance with Chapter 155 and are not in the best interest of Montgomery County and our citizens. I will expect full compliance with Chapter 155. As Commissioner I take this seriously and will use all legal methods to protect the people.”
The project calls for the installation of nearly 120 wind turbines, associated substation, collection lines and access roads with construction to begin as early as 2019. An anticipated $106 million in “state and local economic activity during construction” and an estimated $6.6 million is expected per year after construction with most of the revenue going to on-side workers, landowners and local businesses. The proposal also includes 44 permanent jobs once it’s operational.
Fulwider laid out his concerns at the start of the commissioners’ discussion saying that under Chapter 155 of the county’s code of ordinances the amount of the financial assurance must be approved by the commissioners. But the proposed agreement gives Roaming Bison the authority to decide the amount. The county code also says that data be reviewed every five years with the building commissioner’s ability to adjust the financial assurance up or down, but the proposed agreement would allow Roaming Bison to adjust financial assurances every five years.
One section of the proposed economic development agreement references tax abatement options, which Fulwider pointed out is under the control of the county council rather than commissioners.
Commissioner Phil Bane suggested Roaming Bison first go in front of the Montgomery County Council before moving forward with any agreements.
“I don’t see any point in cluttering up the language in this thing if the council is going to give an abatement or if they’re not going to give an abatement,” Bane said. “Let’s find out what the council is going to do and then draw up an agreement based on their vote.”
Even without tax abatements, Commissioners made clear they have too many uncertainties before they could approve moving forward with such agreements.
The economic development agreement asks for accelerated vesting and Fulwider said the agreements should be presented closer to the time of applying for permits.
“This would negate the need for Roaming Bison to be exempt from changes that everyone else is bound by,” Fulwider said. “Also, I don’t believe current elected officials should limit the ability of future elected officials to make changes to the law.”
Commissioners expressed concern over road use and repair. Roaming Bison Wind didn’t provide any details on which roads and drains would be impacted. The proposed agreement limited the company’s responsibility for repairs.
The proposed decommissioning agreement also failed to be in compliance with the county ordinance, Fulwider said.
“The agreement gives Roaming Bison up to 12 months after abandonments to remove the structure,” he said. “Chapter 155 says that towers and other facilities must be removed and demolished promptly. Under Chapter 155, Roaming Bison would have no obligation to demolish and remove until lack of power generation for 12 months. Under Roaming Bison’s proposal the turbines could be idle and not removed for 24 months.”
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