Wind company chimes in on committee recommendation

Wind company chimes in on committee recommendation

Courier Times: Sunday, December 4, 2016 6:00 am | Updated: 8:29 am, Mon Dec 5, 2016.

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Apex Clean Energy, the company proposing the Flat Rock Wind Farm in southern Henry County, released a statement earlier this week following the vote and dissolution of a local committee tasked with reviewing the local wind energy conversion system (WECS) ordinance.

The WECS committee voted Nov. 22 to recommend changing the county code so that turbines had to be at least 1,250 feet away from any residence, regardless of how the property is zoned. Towers need to be at least 1.1 times their height away from neighboring property lines.

“We’ve been contacted by community members regarding the WECS decision and about property rights in general,” said Apex Public Affairs Manager Dan Blondeau.

Blondeau said the recommended change is not a reduction in setbacks.

“In fact, the WECS committee recommended an additional setback requirement of 1,250 feet from non-participating dwellings be added to the ordinance,” Blondeau said. “As a company, our standard is to not site turbines any closer than 1,250 feet from homes.”

The current Henry County WECS ordinance states that any wind turbine “shall be, at a minimum, 1,500 feet or more from any residential zoning district or 1,000 feet or more from any business zoning district.” Henry County Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs said a “district” in this instance refers to a lot or zoned tract of land.

Blondeau also commented on the subject of property rights.

“We do not access personal property without obtaining permission,” he said. “Landowners that have signed a wind energy lease reserve the right to use their property for any purpose that doesn’t inhibit operation of the wind farm.

Landowners who lease parts of their property to Apex can still use their land for farming, grazing of livestock, and hunting, Blondeau said. He said landowners are also involved in decisions about placement of wind energy facilities.

Henry County resident Gary Rodgers gave a presentation Nov. 23 to the Henry County Council that indicated homeowners near wind turbine sites in the county would lose control of their land once the towers went up. According to Rodgers’s scenario, neighboring lots would be pared down by intersecting turbine setbacks.

Rodgers argued that if Henry County granted easements to the wind turbine companies, it would be effectively stealing those easements from the surrounding property owners.

Wind farm opponents are concerned about whether or not property owners who live near future industrial wind turbine sites will be able to build additional homes near their property lines if that area falls under a turbine setback.

“There’s a legitimate question there,” said Henry County Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs. “It’s something we need to get settled.”

The proposed WECS setback change would not affect a neighboring property owner’s ability to build a barn, pool, shed, or other outbuilding within the turbine setback area that crosses onto their land, Jacobs said.

Jacobs said a landowner could hypothetically parcel off their property and build another residence on the new lot. The minimum lot size for residential uses shall be one and one-half acres unless otherwise required by the Henry County Health Department for proper sewerage. New residential buildings also have their own setback guidelines.

The Henry County Development Code allows for a maximum of one residential dwelling per every 20 acres in agricultural (A1) or floodplain (FP) districts, where industrial wind turbines are likely to be located.

The Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) has the authority to allow exceptions to setback rules.

Jacobs pointed out that a precedent exists for setbacks to go to dwellings, not just property lines. The county ordinance regulating confined feeding operations (CFOs) and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) states that facilities cannot be built closer than 800 feet to a residential structure that is not located on the proposed CFO/CAFO site.

The WECS committee did not discuss scenarios in which a neighboring property owner may wish to build within an industrial wind turbine setback.

Jacobs hopes that the details of the WECS ordinance get worked out before any turbines are constructed constructed.

The Henry County Planning Commission meets 6:30 p.m. Dec. 15. Jacobs said the agenda items will take care of end of the year business. There will be no wind discussion on the agenda, he said.

It will be after the first of the year before the WECS ordinance comes before the planning commission again, Jacobs added.

The original story can be read here.