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Indiana county proposes hike in setback, for wind turbines

PERU, Ind. — A doubling of the setbacks for commercial wind turbines is proposed in Miami County, in response to a raft of complaints about a wind farm on the drawing board.

The Miami County Planning and Building Commission on March 14 decided to consider increasing the existing 1,000-foot setback for wind turbines. If approved, no commercial wind turbine could go up within 2,000 feet of a property line, roads, public lands and city limits.

Seventy-five turbines close to 700 feet tall are proposed on about 36,000 acres in northern Miami County by RES, an international renewable energy company responsible for more than 100 wind farms worldwide. The commission is expected to vote on the proposed doubling of the setbacks in April once the restrictions are placed into ordinance form.

Final approval would then be considered by the Miami County commissioners. Larry West, a member of both the county and plan commissions, said he’s not sure if doubling the setback would place the project at risk. He did say it might be difficult for all of the turbines to meet a tougher setback requirement with the county populated more with small farms, not larger ones with vast amounts of open land.

“I doubt they can put in as many as what they would need to make the project economical, but I don’t know that for a fact,” West said.

He said it seems “late in the game” to be changing the setback requirements, with more than 90 lease agreements signed already between RES and landowners where the turbines would go up. He also speculated changing the rules now could also bring legal action from the company.

He said RES had not filed for a building permit yet as required, but still began the process by entering into lease agreements prior to any changes in the setback restrictions.

West said property owners in the four townships where the turbines are planned would see a roughly 25 percent reduction in their property taxes. He said there would also be a “substantial” influx of cash into the North Miami School Corp.

Opponents feel turbines seven stories high would be a detriment to the landscape, negatively impact their quality of life and pose a health risk. Greg Deeds, a former county commissioner, said he supports the proposed setback change but is against the project.

Deeds, a professional land surveyor, said the current setbacks restrict property rights because they would prohibit a house on that same parcel from being constructed within 1,000 feet of a turbine. Doubling the setback creates room on the land for a house to go up.

“It would put the tower far enough from your property line to alleviate that problem,” he noted.

Deeds also has concerns about the potential health risks of wind farms outlined in various studies, and local roads being torn up from trucks during construction. He also doubts if the economic benefits would exceed the negatives, which he said include division within the community because sentiments on both sides of the issue are so strong.

“It pits people against their neighbors,” he said.

He thinks a wind farm is better suited for an area like Newton County in the northwestern part of the state because of the population there being so low and the vast amount of wide open spaces. Newton County has one of the highest concentrations of commercial wind turbines in the nation.

Presently, Miami County does not have a wind farm. “It’s successful over there, but they aren’t around as many houses as what’s being proposed here,” Deeds said.