PRINCETON — E.ON Climate & Renewables is planning a wind farm in Posey and southern Gibson County — and is exploring the feasibility of a second wind farm in areas northwest and south-southwest of Princeton as well.
Wind Development Manager Karsen Rumpf told Gibson County Commissioners and residents Tuesday afternoon that the company has been involved in land acquisition for 13 months in Gibson County as part of a three-part study of developing a Gibson County wind farm. He said more meteorological and environmental studies and permitting processes are ahead over the next two to three years, before a wind farm layout is finalized.
Rumpf said the company was involved in some prospecting work earlier, but he became involved in the project in January, 2018, gathering data on available wind speeds and infrastructure, and gauging landowner interest.
He said E.ON is a third-party contractor that would develop and generate wind energy that could be distributed via Duke Energy transmission lines through the Midwest Independent System Operators (MISO) electrical grid.
He told commissioners that the company is negotiating easement agreements with private property owners and will not be involved in acquiring any property through eminent domain. E.ON is either completing or negotiating lease agreements for about 9,500 to 10,000 acres, and would like to have agreements for about 2,000 to 3,000 more acres, he estimated.
Rumpf said E.ON will be working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Federal Aviation Administration for proper permitting, as well as working with the county regarding floodplain permits and use of county roads.
"There's a lot yet to be done," he told the group Tuesday. "That's where we are today."
Rumpf said E.ON has installed one meteorological tower and expects to erect two more towers in coming months to generate more wind speed data. Once all the data is compiled, the company can determine the location and type of wind turbines, and required access roads.
He said the company's lease terms require E.ON to place turbines at a minimum 1,250-feet setback from any residence, 550 feet from any road right-of-way, 550 feet from existing structures or power lines, and if an adjacent landowner doesn't agree to a lease, the turbine would be no less than 550 feet from their property line. The largest turbine would be about 490 feet from the base to the tip of the blade, he estimated.
Residents questioned how the project could be economically feasible, citing wind studies from several years ago, but Rumpf said the cost of developing wind energy has dropped about 66 percent.
He estimated that the company would pay about $42 million in property taxes over a 30-year period, noting that the leases are for 30 years with provisions for two additional 10-year renewal periods.
Rod Flora, a Newburgh contractor working with E.ON in acquisitions, said the company will be improving the roads it uses for construction and maintenance of the turbines, to the specifications set by the county.
Rumpf estimated more than 200 construction jobs would be involved in the development of the wind farms and about 15 technicians will work and live in the area to maintain them.
He told County Commissioner Gerald Bledsoe that once the layout of the wind farm is determined, the company will come to the county to discuss bonding to protect/improve roads, county rights-of-way and entrances, culverts and bridges.
Commissioner Mary Key asked what provisions are made for decommissioning the turbines. Rumpf said the lease agreements stipulate that funds will be allocated in escrow beginning in the 20th year of the lease.
"E.ON is a global energy company," he said, telling Key the expense and revenue stream of the project will be known "before we even put anything in the ground."
Board of Commissioners President Steve Bottoms asked how much concrete is involved in the base for each turbine. Rumpf said soil borings will be done at each location, but the foundations will include tons of concrete and about 40,000 to 45,000 pounds of rebar reinforcement for the base.
Oakland City resident Bob Zasadny asked Rumpf how the turbines will stand up to tornadoes, noting that he's seen six or eight tornadoes in the county during his residency here. Rumpf said the turbines are built to withstand hurricane-force winds, but they're locked up so they're not spinning during a storm. "We also carry a high liability policy," he said.
Rumpf said wind power is a growing sector of the U.S. energy footprint, anticipated to increase to about 35 percent of the power provided by 2035.
Jim Tate, rural Princeton, asked whether the turbines would interfere with the county's Doppler radar system. Rumpf said the Federal Aviation Administration requires turbines to be located no closer than three nautical miles from a Doppler tower. "It's part of our due diligence," he told Tate.
Dennis Kiesel of Poseyville asked why E.ON would want to encroach on small towns, questioning why setbacks aren't at least 1,640 feet.
Rumpf said the setbacks are at least 1.1 times the height of the turbine.
Ron McRoberts asked whether E.ON would make use of local union labor for its steel, electrical and iron work. "We try to outsource locally as much as possible," Flora told him.
Les Kiesel of Haubstadt noted that if he has ground adjacent to property leased by E.ON for a turbine, the terms of the lease agreement would have the turbine within 550 feet of his property line, even if he intended to build a home on the property. He also said he's read information about the physical effect of living within two miles of a turbine, making note of the turbines' flickering lights. "I'm not a lease owner, I'm somebody living in the shadow of these turbines," he said.
"I understand it's new down here," Rumpf told the crowd. A native of Iowa, he said he grew up seeing wind farms.
"This is a whole new ball game to us," Dennis Simpson said. "We're used to oil and coal leases..."
Les Kiesel asked Rumpf whether E.ON's choice of Gibson County as a potential wind farm site is related to lack of restrictions.
Rumpf said the company looks at infrastructure, whether there are other wind farms in the area, whether there is adequate wind speed and landowner interest. "Zoning comes into play as well," he said.
Kiesel asked whether the project is a joint venture with Duke Energy, and Rumpf said it is not.
Becky Kiesel of Posey County asked whether the project is a "done deal" and what it would take to derail it.
Rumpf said it's not a "done deal," with permitting processes and land leases still to be accomplished. "We have to abide by the county requirements," he said. Questioned again about setbacks and the number of turbines planned for the Gibson County wind farm, he said lease terms take the owner's other uses for the property into consideration. He said the company typically sets one turbine per 80 acres.
Terry Adler, Mackey, noted that he's lived with the impact of coal mining and coal-generated electricity in Gibson County for years. "We are an industrial area," he said. "Something's got to take the place of these aging power plants," he added, noting that wind and solar energy are renewable sources.
Rumpf fielded several other questions, including inquiries about how much money landowners get for lease agreements. "It's not my position to tell you how much they make," he told the crowd.
The company owns and operates 23 wind farms in seven states, including the Wildcat Wind Farm in Tipton/Madison Counties in Indiana. "We own and operate our projects," E.ON's Development Outreach Manager Oliver Allen reported.
According to the company's website, the Wildcat Wind Farm in Indiana includes 125 GE 1.6 megawatt turbines that provide more than 200 MW of power, enough to provide power to more than 60,000 households.
Allen said the company made a short presentation at Princeton Community High School recently and plans to be involved in the Gibson General Health Foundation and Gibson County Chamber of Commerce, as well.
Bledsoe invited those who attended the meeting to take a look at a color-coded map of parcels in various stages of lease negotiations with E.ON in Gibson and Posey Counties.
"Just remember, this is our very first meeting," Key told the crowd. "We've got a long way to go. It's a long, slow process."