Chesterton Tribune

County sets rules for wind power as firm eyes Pleasant Township for turbines

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By VICKI URBANIK

Porter County now has the framework in place to welcome a major new industry: Alternative energy.

The Porter County Commissioners on Tuesday approved two amendments to the county’s Unified Development Ordinance establishing the county’s first-ever regulations on wind energy systems. One ordinance spells out the rules for small-scale, individual turbines, and the other consists of regulations for large wind farms.

TradeWind Energy, based in Kansas, is currently in the process of getting leases in place from property owners in south Porter County, specifically in Pleasant Township, for a new wind farm, county officials said. The company has provided input on the new ordinance, which the county needed in order to allow the wind farm since no such rules have been in place before.

Porter County Commissioner President Robert Harper emphasized that the new wind farm ordinance was developed after an enormous amount of work by a plan commission study committee, which reviewed other ordinances and visited wind farms, including the one in Benton County. He said the county’s ordinance is no more or less restrictive than what’s in place elsewhere.

Plan Commission assistant director Ray Joseph said the TradeWind company is also satisfied with the county’s new rules, calling it a “pro-wind” ordinance. He said the company is eyeing about 10,000 acres in Porter County for the new wind farm.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said.

Added South County Commissioner Carole Knoblock: “This is our future.”

The commissioners suspended the rules and adopted the ordinance on first reading dealing with the small turbine systems. The ordinance on the large-scale wind farms will come back for a second reading because of an error in the description.

Both ordinances spell out various regulations dealing with height, setbacks, noise and other technical concerns.

Among the requirements for individual wind turbines is a rule that a property owner has at least 2.5 acres or else obtains a special exception from the Porter County Board of Zoning Appeals.

North Porter County Commissioner John Evans questioned if that requirement is too restrictive. Noting that turbines can require an significant upfront investment, Evans said individual property owners who want to be energy conscious might not be able to recoup their costs if they must have that large of a lot size.

But Joseph said the ordinance as it is now is only a starting point for Porter County, noting that wind turbines are a relatively new technology that the county has never regulated before.

Harper suggested suspending the rules to finalize the ordinance rather than wait for another meeting, since there are people in Porter County lining up contractors to get their wind systems in place.

The second ordinance dealing with the large-scale wind farms includes a requirement that the turbines must be located at least 1,000 feet away from minor subdivisions and 3,000 feet away from larger subdivisions and places of worship. The setbacks rules, however, can be adjusted by the BZA.

The maximum height of a wind farm turbine can be up to 500 feet. Joseph said that height is needed because the wind in Porter County tends to be of a higher elevation. The ordinance also spells the agencies that must be contacted of the route used to transport the wind turbines during construction and a ban on shadow flicker on houses and on road intersections.

Adult Education

For the third year in a row, the county commissioners have agreed to provide county funding for the Portage Adult Education, which provides adult learning centers throughout the county, including one in Chesterton.

The stability of Porter County’s adult education has been in doubt ever since late 2007, when the Portage Township School Board threatened to cease serving as the fiscal agent for the program due to its costs for absorbing an annual deficit that’s been in the $130,000 range. Since then, the program has stayed afloat through a patchwork of funding from various sources, including the county’s share of the county income tax.

Harper said the county funding will keep adult education afloat for at least another year, as it continues to try to secure state funding for a long-term solution.

LOFS agreement

The commissioners also approved a quit claim deed relinquishing a county easement for a platted but unbuilt road at Lake of the Four Seasons.

Attorney Ted Fitzgerald, representing the LOFS Property Owners Association, said the POA is proposing to build the road at its own expense in order to provide another entrance to the community. The road will be gated and accessed via a card system used by residents and emergency vehicles.

Good Work

The commissioners gave their annual approval for the Porter County Red Ribbon Committee to use the county administration center for the annual kick-off of Red Ribbon Week and to place ribbons on county grounds as a symbol of the efforts to combat alcohol and drug abuse. Harper commended Red Ribbon committee chair Jackie Sterling for her years of service to the cause.

The commissioners also approved a request from the Salvation Army of Porter County to hold a “Kettle Kick Off” on the County Courthouse square at noon on Nov. 12. The event will kick off the Salvation Army’s annual kettle fundraising campaign.

 

 

 

Posted 10/7/2009