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Proposed Bill Could Limit Small Towns' Ability To Regulate Wind Turbine Construction

Wind turbines line a gravel road in Benton County
Taylor Haggerty

As the debate about wind power  continues in West Central Indiana, proposed legislation could limit small towns’ ability to regulate turbine construction near their community. A bill reducing extraterritorial powers goes to the House Committee on Government Reduction for a vote Tuesday.

Current law allows a small town to create a buffer zone of four miles around itself where development may not occur, as long as there are health and safety concerns from residents. But landowners in that zone don’t get to vote for the officials making those calls.

Sen. Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville), who authored the bill, says that’s unfair. He says these kinds of restrictions should be put in place by county authorities for whom everyone votes.

“Some board, some commission or whatever, has authority, and you can go to them to get that fixed as opposed to going to a smaller board or whatever and trying to get them to do what you want to do,” Boots says.

Boots says he didn’t know the extraterritorial powers were in effect until after a few towns in Montgomery County put them in place against wind farms. But he says his bill isn’t about wind.

Still, public comment at previous committee hearings has centered on wind. Turbine company representatives say the restrictions make it harder to build farms by removing large chunks of usable rural land. Residents say it provides a solution when county officials won’t put limitations in place.

The Montgomery County town of Alamo, with a population of just 65, was mentioned several times at the bill’s last hearing. It enacted an ordinance against wind turbines in 2018.

Lawmakers have discussed making the bill retroactive to include anything put in place after January 1.

While Alamo’s ordinance was law before that, Town Board President Steve Lejeune says the proposal concerns him.

“I think it’s wrong, because what the state put in is what we interpreted and used it as,” Lejeune says. “Right now, I don’t know what the issue is about. We used it per state code.”

Lejeune says his town’s ordinance came after researching what he calls the risks of wind farms and after visiting projects in Illinois. He and other town officials wanted space between the developments and residents’ homes.

Wind company representatives argue four miles is too much, and restricts their options for development. They say that’s compounded as more towns enact ordinances, especially when the zones overlap.

If passed, the bill would limit towns’ extraterritorial radius to two miles, and only with county approval.

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