Council receives information on wind energy

COLUMBIA CITY — Whitley County Council President Kim Wheeler issued a warning, or disclaimer Tuesday morning prior to a planned presentation to the council.“I want to make it perfectly clear,” said Wheeler, “we’re here for information only. We’re here to learn. We’re not going to go there.”“There” was a reference to the heated debate that has been heard at board meetings since late last year regarding the possibility of wind energy conversion facilities being constructed in the county.The council heard a presentation from John Doster, Director of Business Development for Wind Capital Group in Chicago, which has a local office in Columbia City.For months, the company has been measuring wind in the county courtesy of devices called meteorological towers.In addition, lease agreements have been penned between Wind Capital and landowners. The agreements are for the purposes of either permission to erect “met towers” or for future permission to construct wind turbines, should wind studies prove a wind farm as feasible.Doster’s appearance before the board was for the purpose of the panel hearing of the benefits of such a wind farm project.“Our (Wind Capital’s) leadership group has been involved in wind (energy) development for many years,” said Doster.Doster said his company believes in blending in with the local populous.“We take more of a community approach,” he said. “We want to be a positive contributor.”The controversy involving wind energy in the county stemmed from landowners and residents who bristle up at the idea of large wind turbines near their property or where they live.Opponents say the turbines are noisy and have visual downsides.According to Doster, the benefits are far-reaching.“Very little actual farmland goes out of production for a wind project,” said Doster.He said there are three possible wind farm sizes that would make sense in Whitley County, should the wind research be favorable.The smallest size facility Wind Capital would be interested in building, according to Doster, would be a 50 megawatt wind farm, which would consist of 25 to 28 turbines.He said the largest facility he could imagine being built here would be a 250 megawatt farm, or about 167 turbines.Doster explained the turbines would all be connected to each other, which the combined energy generated being eventually connected to the power grid and sold to utility companies such as REMC or NIPSCO.He said when the company began looking at Whitley County, a landowner meeting was held, which attracted 150 people.Since that time, 19,000 acres are signed via lease agreements to the company with 150 leases and 650 landowners involved.Another benefit to the county, according to Doster, would be a lower tax rate for citizens.He also added that compensation which is currently being given to landowners who’ve signed leases would also be afforded to those who live in close proximity to the turbines.While the met towers continue to gather the data and county officials continue to study the issue prior to formulating an ordinance to govern such facilities, Doster’s company continues to plan for its best-case scenario, which according to his presentation would be a 250 megawatt wind farm in southwestern Whitley County.“You have to start big and then whittle it down to what makes sense,” Doster said.We’re still in the early stages of development.”