The first draft is in. 

Jay County Plan Commission received the initial draft of the reworked wind farm ordinance, a months-long effort by several public officials and community members.

Jay County Commissioners called for review of the ordinance last summer after imposing a three-year moratorium on the construction of wind farms in response to backlash from Scout Clean Energy’s application for a wind farm in Jefferson and Richland townships. 

That project, Bitter Ridge Wind Farm, was ultimately approved, and will be allowed to move forward under the existing ordinance as the application was submitted before the moratorium was enacted. Any updates to the wind ordinance will not apply to Bitter Ridge Wind Farm.  

A study committee of seven people — including two plan commission members, a county commissioner, a Jay County Council member and wind farm opponents and proponents —  have spent the last several months revamping the ordinance. Any disagreements were settled with a vote, Jay County Building and Planning director John Hemmelgarn told the commission. 

The proposed new ordinance is 15 pages, twice the length of the original seven-page document. Many sections have been elongated to make the application process clearer, and there are several new sections as well. 

“(We) just decided to go over the whole ordinance completely and kind of put it in better order so it makes sense,” assistant director Pati McLaughlin said. “Try to make it a little easier to understand, group it in sections, make it more explicit.” 

Some of the biggest proposed changes were to setbacks, which was a common point of contention raised during public hearings related to Scout Clean Energy’s application.  

According to the existing ordinance, turbines cannot be any closer than 1.1 times the height of the turbine’s tower to property lines, roads, railroads and overhead electric lines. The setback from existing or occupied houses was 1,000 feet, and 1,500 from any platted community. 

In the proposed ordinance, the setback from the turbine must be 1.5 times the total height of the turbine at its highest point (the tip of an upright blade) away from the property line of non-participating landowners. The setback for homes is at least 1,500 feet for non-participating landowners.

Landowners participating in the project can waive these setbacks. 

Turbines must also be 1,500 feet from any church, school, business or public building, any area zoned commercial or rural residential and any commercial zoned recreational area, and from the incorporated limits of any municipality. The setback for roads and railways is at least 350 feet or 1.1 times the height of the turbine, and half a mile from the property lines from any nature preserve or park. All access driveways to the wind farm must be at least 300 feet from any non-participating property lines. 

The proposed ordinance outlines the procedure for burying electric cable and wire. All buried cable would need to be at least 60 inches deep, with warning mesh at 36 inches deep. 

At last year’s meetings, there were also concerns about burying cables and wires related to the wind farms and what would happen if someone struck one while digging. The new ordinance would require that underground cabling would be marked at road crossings, creeks, river beds and property lines. Additionally, no underground work could be completed on land within the wind farm without an employee of that center on site. 

Other potential unwelcome effects from wind turbines were addressed in the ordinance draft. If a wind energy center receives a written complaint about interference related to shadow flicker — the shadow produced by the rotating blades — it must take “reasonable steps” to minimize the impact.

Additionally, the level of noise produced by a wind farm shall not exceed 55 decibels when heard off-site. 

Other proposed changes include: 

•Notification of the zoning administrator to changes in turbine height or size or a change in the number of turbines after the application is approved.  

•Requiring proof of correspondence and cooperation with wildlife agencies regarding harm to bats or birds. 

•The addition of a flowchart that shows the timeline and procedure for approving or rejecting the application. 

“I felt as a group we brought in a lot of the concerns that people brought up last year during the planning commission meetings,” Hemmelgarn said. “We’re never going to agree 100 percent on everything, but I think we have a good one here.” 

The process to finalize the ordinance could take several months. Now that they have the draft in hand, plan commission members will review the ordinance and discuss any changes at their April meeting. After that, a public hearing will be scheduled to receive community input. If OK’d by the plan commission, the ordinance will then go to Jay County Commissioners for their approval.