Benton County's Wind Energy Ordinance: Wind Powering America Lessons Learned

Sept. 6, 2011

Benton County is one of Indiana's top agricultural communities. In 2008, the county welcomed the crop of the future, becoming home to Indiana's first wind farm (and several subsequent projects). Wind Powering America interviewed Benton County government officials about lessons learned while developing their wind energy ordinance.

Did Benton County planners start from scratch or build on an established ordinance?

Benton County planners began by looking at ordinances from Illinois and Iowa. Much of our ordinance wording came from those, but we also changed much of it because of different permitting and taxing state policies. So we used bits and pieces from each ordinance we read and then added some new language to meet our needs here.

Describe any lessons learned in terms of ensuring that the county will receive economic benefits from the projects.

Abatements vary widely and could not be directly addressed within the Benton County ordinance. However, one way to ensure economic benefits is to charge for tax abatements. Individual projects differ in whether abatements are needed, but when they are, county officials should ensure that the agreement benefits the community and the people. In one Benton County case, developers make payments in lieu of taxes for the first 10 years of operation and then resume regular tax payments for the remainder of the project.

The general public may express concerns regarding sound and setbacks, which then must be addressed in ordinances. Can you share your experience with county planners who may be working on wind turbine regulations regarding sound and setbacks?

Non-participating people (those not receiving money from the wind developers) viewed the sound issue differently than people who were participating, but then after the project's development, those views changed and became more positive. Although there is no specific language in our ordinance addressing sound levels, Benton County utilized setbacks to address these concerns.

The ordinance requires turbines to be located at least 1,000 feet from "residences" and 1.1 times the highest point of the turbine from other structures such as roads. When planning setbacks from buildings, Benton County planners only addressed "residences," so eventually the county had to re-define "residence" to include all buildings that are occupied for a certain number of hours and a certain number of days per week in order to include schools, churches, and other structures.

Benton County has multiple wind energy installations within its jurisdiction. What advice would you give county planners who are developing ordinance language?

Do your research before you start, before the first wind farm company comes! That way you will not have to fix ordinance mistakes when another company approaches the county. Benton County was unique because we were the first county in the state with a wind farm, so we basically invented the wheel for the state of Indiana. Now other counties have used our ordinances and have tweaked them to satisfy their area/community, and it has made it better for all involved.

Describe any other lessons learned while developing the Benton County wind energy ordinance.

Understand that road conditions and drainage issues must constantly be addressed, throughout the development of the wind farm and after installations. A drainage issue affecting farmers was more difficult to deal with than we originally planned. The county had originally addressed potential drainage issues in the contract with the wind farm developers. The agreement states that the developers will be responsible for damages to subsequent crops due to drainage issues. While developers met their obligations, the issue took longer to remedy than originally thought. In order to fix this issue for future projects, county commissioners are considering hiring an individual to oversee this portion of construction.

More Information

The Benton County ordinance

More information about model ordinances.