Wells County residents are engaged in a vigorous debate about whether proposed wind energy projects will bring economic advantage or diminish the quality of life in some southern portions of the county. County officials deserve praise for ensuring that residents have plenty of information about the issues.
The initial proposal from Apex Wind Energy for an 87-turbine wind farm was approved in March 2012 after a marathon-length public hearing. But Apex – of Charlottesville, Va. – agreed to alter the approved plan as part of a settlement with a group called Wells County Concerned Citizens. The petition for those modifications, which addressed setback and noise concerns, was approved in November.
Then in March, Apex acquired the assets of another proposed wind project from Wind Capital.
Wells County officials have taken several measures to keep the public informed about the wind farm proposals and ensure that residents have ample opportunities to ask questions and voice concerns. Planning for long meetings at convenient locations is one example of their efforts toward transparency. The Wells County Area Plan Commission’s useful website is another.
Michael Lautzenheiser, executive director of the plan commission, and his staff are responsible for the website (www.wellscounty.org/apc.htm). It provides easy access to a wealth of information about the wind farm plans, including notices for important meetings, information about project specifications, the county’s wind ordinance and numerous maps.
When we go through any public hearing process, but especially one as contentious as this, our biggest job is to make sure we are providing complete information, Lautzenheiser said.
In order to have productive discussion at the public hearing, people have to have accurate information. We try to make sure we get everyone on the same page as to what the petition is actually about.
Last week, the plan commission conducted a lengthy hearing on Apex’s request to have the option to alter the height of turbines in Phase I of the wind farm. Apex also asked for approval of development plans for a new, 69-turbine project bought from Wind Capital – now known as Phase II.
At the end of the meeting, which lasted more than five hours, the plan commission decided to deny the height changes and table the other decision until its next meeting, scheduled for May 2.
Meanwhile, a Wells County Council meeting scheduled for this week was postponed. The council was expected to consider road use and drainage, decommissioning and economic development agreements with Apex, as well as a tax abatement request.
The three agreements play a big role in whether the project happens.
For people who are interested in what’s going on in Wells County, the May 2 (plan commission) meeting and the County Council meeting (not yet scheduled), those are very important meetings that will determine what will happen, Lautzenheiser said.
Many Wells County residents have strong feelings about the proposed wind farm. County officials are doing an excellent job of ensuring that the final decisions about the wind energy projects are based on solid information.