A passionate yet comported audience of 42 concerned citizens on both sides of the Montgomery County wind farms issue listened for nearly two hours, Wednesday evening, to a Cass County journalist discuss his findings after nearly two years covering the issue in his county.
Mitchell Kirk, journalist for the Pharos-Tribune in Logansport was the guest of the Montgomery County League of Women’s Voters (LWV), and covered a wide range of topics on wind energy developments.
A commercial wind turbine project for Cass County was originally proposed in October 2016 by Renewable Energy Systems (RES), an international firm. Since its original inception, the project has grown to include proposals in Fulton and Miami counties. Other counties are also being eyed.
Kirk presented information that included technical topics, as well as the concerns on both sides of the issue.
“Since covering the issue since January 2017, I’ve learned that there are passionate viewpoints on both sides of the subject,” said Kirk, who also resides in Cass County. “At first it felt a little bit bizarre, since as a reporter I’m used to asking questions and not presenting information. But, I do think it is my responsibility to share the information that I do have.”
The RES project is purportedly a $900 million project, and the company reports that 35,000 acres of land have already been secured from property owners. Cass County Commissioners are currently in negotiations with the firm.
“An economic development agreement will result, which, I am told, may result in about $70 million in economic development payments to Cass and Miami counties,” reported Kirk.
The firm has not chosen which type of turbine they will use, but the physical dimension could reach heights above 500 feet. An estimated 150 to 250 turbines could dot both counties.
Following Kirk’s presentation, the audience offered questions regarding the information discovered in his investigations, especially setback limits. Setbacks are binding on the owners of the property hosting the turbine, and may also apply to adjacent property owners, some of whom may actually oppose the project. They are intended to provide a health or safety perimeter, should a turbine experience “abnormal operations,” said Kirk.
Setbacks may be established by contract, or legislated by local government.
Kirk discovered that setbacks are not necessarily uniform from county to county. “RES is indicating that setbacks be calculated on 1.1 times the turbine height from nonparticipating property lines.”
During discussions, the audience — both proponents and opponents — expressed a widely held frustration that with all of the information available, conclusive evidence seems elusive despite years of study.
“Essentially, I believe it is the County’s responsibility to provide information to the community,” said Brock Ervin, an admitted advocate of wind energy, and operator of windworksofmontgomerycounty.org. “I don’t believe they’ve done that. I believe that they should bring in subject matter experts, who can discuss these things, and tell us what the research says.”
Opponents also expressed concerns to Kirk, including an audible sigh when an audience member compared the height of the proposed Cass County turbines to the 830 feet tall Salesforce Tower Indianapolis, the state’s tallest building.
Kirk frequently called upon audience members, Judy Kellems and Kathy Miller of the grassroots Fulton County Property Rights, to add detail to his research. The two residents of Fulton County, frequently travel to hear the reporter, and to offer their perspective, after successfully opposing commercial wind energy in their county.
“Basically on January 18, 2018, our County Commissioners voted to essentially ban WECS [Wind Energy Conversion Systems] from our county. It can be done,” said Miller. “There are now property rights groups in Jasper, Cass, Miami, and Kosciusko counties, too.”
Although the issue will still remain unsolved, LWV president Nancy Bennett is happy her organization held the forum.
“It is not our responsibility to present a so-called ‘town meeting’,” said Bennett, “However, one of the missions of the League of Women Voters to educate the public on the working of their local government. That we accomplished. We had a good turnout, and I was happy that we had a civil discussion of the issue.”