PERU – The Miami County Planning and Building Commission approved amendments to the county’s wind energy ordinance that at least one official said would essentially kill any prospect of future wind turbine installation in the county.
The 6-3 vote came at the end of a lengthy and lively meeting Wednesday evening in the Miami Circuit Courtroom, with practically every seat in the house filled and the walls lined with standing onlookers. Many in attendance sported yellow shirts or buttons depicting a wind turbine with a red slash through it.
The amended ordinance now moves to the board of commissioners for a final vote before it becomes law.
Reading the full ordinance to the full house took approximately an hour, with the most notable change being the 2,000-foot setback for wind turbines from property lines, roadways, conservation lands and other structures and protected areas. That’s double the setback laid out in the current ordinance, which was adopted in 2011.
This all comes after residents expressed opposition at a project proposed by RES, an international renewable energy company, which could bring 75 turbines to the northern part of the county.
The Tribune reported last month that the proposed setback changes came from a three-person subcommittee of the planning commission made up of members Jason Bowman, Brad Fruth and John Reibly.
The subcommittee was created in December to review the ordinance after residents expressed concerns that the current setbacks would allow turbines to be built dangerously close to their homes.
During a public hearing Wednesday, several residents spoke and each one threw support behind the amendments. However, a common caveat throughout was a desire for even stricter setbacks and noise regulations.
Becky Mahoney, who has been a vocal opponent of the project, had in a previous meeting presented the commission with almost 900 signatures from area residents requesting a turbine setback of 2,640 from property lines.
Mahoney spoke Wednesday night, where she put a spin on the song “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell and said: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, they paved paradise and put up a wind turbine.”
She later spoke about the debated ailment “wind turbine syndrome,” saying that the condition is “very real.”
“The question that has come up is can it be proven that wind turbines cause medical issues? The question I’ll ask you is, is it 100 percent proven that cigarettes cause cancer? No it is not, but is accepted fact now. Do you want to put things in the county that are known to cause, that have caused issues, and just wait and see if it causes any problems to your neighbors and friends or children?”
Commission member and County Commissioner Larry West said the new setbacks will kill the project, a claim that was debated by board members, notably, Bowman, Fruth and Reibly, who drafted the amendments.
West also debated claims that turbines represent a health risk, calling such claims “scare tactics.”
“Do you realize [there are] five school corporations in Indiana, at least five, that have turbines on their school grounds? … Do you think these schools would have turbines on their property if they think there was scientific evidence of health risks?” he said.
West said financial consequences of stricter setbacks haven’t been properly analyzed, and made a motion for the night’s vote to be delayed until a financial impact study could be completed by officials from multiple local bodies. The motion was denied in a 5-4 vote.
Another option that was considered but eventually not voted on was tabling the vote until the after elections put a new commissioner in the District 3 seat. Commissioner Josh Francis, who currently maintains the seat, has recused himself from voting on the amended ordinance because he has been contracted by RES to help develop lease agreements.
That puts the vote between Commissioners West and Alan Hunt. In the event of a 1-1 tie, Pat Roberts, attorney for the commission, said the ordinance would become law after 90 days. He explained that if there was a tie then the issue would fall back to the plan commission, which approved the amendments.