Pulaski Plan Commission Wants More Time to Research Changes to Wind Turbine Regulations

Updating Pulaski County’s wind turbine regulations will take a little longer than county officials had hoped. The advisory plan commission hoped to narrow down some proposed regulations during a work session Monday, but after discussing the issue for over two hours, many questions remained.

Community Development Commission Executive Director Nathan Origer proposed several ideas for things like setback requirements, noise levels, and the approval process. He told the plan commission their goal is to balance a number of competing interests: “The property rights, particularly property values, and health and safety of neighbors of proposed sites; the property rights of the landowners who would like to construct them on their property; the financial well-being of the county; and general welfare of the community today and moving forward.”

The plan commission did reach some consensus on setbacks. Members generally agreed to a setback distance of four times the structure’s overall height, measured from the property line. It was noted that European countries, which have more experience with wind energy development, tend to have a similar standard. But commission member Lawrence Loehmer was concerned that such a setback would prevent small landowners from taking part.

Origer also made suggestions for setbacks from rights of way, as well as public properties like the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area and the Tippecanoe River State Park. “So basically, all of the northern half of the county and a little bit of the east-central part, that makes it impossible to develop, based on increased standards for there,” he explained.

As for the approval process itself, Origer suggested getting rid of the special exception that would allow wind turbines to be developed in land zoned for General Agriculture, if approved by the board of zoning appeals. That would require any potential wind farm to first be rezoned to Intensive Agriculture. He added that a Wind Energy Conversion System Overlay District could be implemented to help with the process.

The main benefit to allowing wind turbines from the county’s perspective, according to Origer, is the potential tax revenue. He said that wind turbines have earned White County and various taxing districts there roughly $17 million since 2009, through property tax revenues and economic development agreements. However, the number of wind turbines in Pulaski County would be much smaller.

At the end of Monday’s work session, the plan commission still had several questions about what impact wind turbines would have on wells, drainage tiles, private airports, and migratory birds. County officials agreed to research the issues, and continue the discussion during the plan commission’s May 29 meeting. That means a public hearing on the proposed changes would be pushed back until June. The plan commission would then make a final recommendation, with the proposal going to the county commissioners for a final decision.