CLINTON COUNTY, Ind. – The argument over whether to allow wind turbines in Clinton County has been turbulent, to say the least.
The Chicago-based renewable energy company E.ON has been pursuing placing turbines in the county since 2013, when it first arrived to gauge support for a 39,000-acre project in the northeast part of Clinton County.
E.ON is hosting an open house Thursday in Frankfort to address the backlash from Clinton County residents and a nonprofit group called Responsible Harvest. Company officials say they hope to educate the public and answer their concerns and address the potential benefits of bringing wind turbines to the county, bordering the southeast part of Tippecanoe County.
Clinton County has had a moratorium on wind farms for about 2½ years. In May, neighboring Tippecanoe County banned large wind turbines, effectively blocking any commercial wind farms in the county, arguing any long-term leases of the large turbines could tie up tens of thousands of acres around Lafayette and West Lafayette.
E.ON has operated the 125-turbine Wildcat Wind Farm in Tipton and Madison counties since 2012.
If the project ever begins in Clinton County, E.ON officials say they plan to place between 35 and 52 turbines on 39,000 acres of leased land. Each turbine would be placed on three-quarters of an acre and would in total provide 145 megawatts of energy, enough to power 50,000 homes per year.
A Clinton County ordinance requires turbines to have a setback distance of 1,520 feet from an occupied dwelling and must be at least four miles away from homes in Frankfort.
Thursday’s open house is part of the company’s strategy to be as open with the community as possible, said Lael Eason, E.ON’s director of development in the Midwest/Northeast region.
“We’re asking to be given a chance,” Eason said. “Concerns have been raised, asking if we’re operating in a transparent manner, people asking for information regarding the project and wind energy in general.”
“Most of the people who will see the turbines would be the land owners,” said Jason Sherman, of Sherman Communications and Marketing, who is assisting E.ON.
But Jane Thompson said she doesn’t want to see them at all. The Clinton County resident lives on a farm near where the proposed turbines could be placed. Thompson, who grows corn and soybeans, said she is concerned about how close the turbines could be placed to rural homes, such as hers and her neighbors.
Along with the close proximity of the turbines, Thompson said she is worried about potential effects the turbines could bring, including noise and shadow flicker.
“The whole situation is so upsetting,” Thompson said. “You build your home, and somebody puts a windmill next to your property, and suddenly you’ve got a red blinking light on the property and shadow flicker. It ruins your property, too.”
E.ON created a website for Clinton County, outlining answers to concerns similar to Thompson’s, providing webpages making a case for how sound and shadow flicker would be no issue.
According to E.ON, the sound created by wind turbines is “is minimal and often quieter than other ambient noises like wind blowing through crops or trees.” E.ON also promises that shadow flicker, which refers to moving shadows the turbine blades can cast on houses based on the sun’s position, only happens “a few minutes a few days out of the year when the sun is at just the right angle.”
Questions about wind turbines haven’t been just local issues. President Donald Trump has also been a critic of wind energy. Trump has suggested the noise from turbines can cause cancer, although there is no evidence to suggest the two are linked. He has also said turbine placement can cause property value to decrease, a claim which has mixed scientific results.
A 2013 study by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory were unable to uncover any impacts to home values after analyzing more than 50,000 home sales near 67 wind facilities in 27 counties across nine states.
However, a 2012 study by the National Association of Realtors tracking more than 11,000 real estate transactions over nine years in New York showed turbines had a negative effect on property values.
Eason said he understands the concerns about property values and health and safety. Part of the open house, he said, will include experts addressing the economic investment the turbines could bring to the community.
Andy Robertson, the director of student teaching at Indiana University Kokomo and a lifelong Clinton County resident, joined Responsible Harvest with fellow concerned members of the community to fight placing turbines in the county. Responsible Harvest members looked at the list of things E.ON has said wind turbines would provide and has been conducting their own research to find “what’s viable and what isn’t,” Robertson said.
One of the organization’s major concerns ties to economic development. E.ON has promised wind turbines will pump money into the local economy. Robertson said the addition of wind farms, which he called industrial wind complexes, would turn the windfall area Clinton County into an “economic dead zone.” As a county bordering Tippecanoe County, one of the fastest counties in the state, Robertson said such an addition could only have a negative effect, calling it “not logical.”
“It’s a multifaceted issue,” Robertson said. “Where do we want to go with this county 50, 100 years down the road? I don’t think it’s economically beneficial.”
Robertson said he plans to be in attendance at the open house Thursday, willing to listen to anything E.ON has to say and see the facts and data the company presents.
“I understand they’re a business, but it reminds me of a used car sales lot,” Robertson said. “It’s the idea that if we can give balloons to kids, we can get you to the door and sell you the car.”
IF YOU GO: The E.ON open house will be from 5-9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, in the Edward Jones Community Building, Clinton County Fairgrounds, 1701 S. Jackson St., Frankfort. A buffet dinner will be served with hourly raffle prize drawings. For more information or to register for the open house, go to http://clintonwind.com/register/.
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