Hoosiers are about to see something many thought would never get out of the western prairie states. Electricity-generating wind turbines 100 or more feet tall are about to sprout of the fertile soils in Benton County in northwest Indiana. It turns out the area is also fertile for wind power.
Jimmy Bricker, Benton County Extension ag educator, has worked with economic development persons in the county on this project for a long time. He believes the wind energy project is a shot in the arm for the rural county where he serves. Although somehow counted as a 'suburban' county in some U.S. government surveys, Benton County in reality is one of Indiana's sparsest-populated, most rural counties. While that brings advantages, it also sometimes means less money available through taxes and other avenues to cover government services.
Wind potential is actually mapped by U.S. government agencies. Most of Indiana is not favorable to a wind turbine project, because average wind speeds aren't high enough. For example, there is likely no potential for such a project in southern Indiana. Whether wind will become the gas, oil and coal of northern Indiana is yet to be determined.
Sources report, however, that with construction already underway on the first wind tower project, a second is inked and ready to go, also in Benton County. There is firm talk of a third project after that one. It could extend westward into Illinois. The projects typically consist of a series of turbine towers set up across a 'ridge' where wind speed averages are high enough to make generation of electricity by wind practical.
There's also talk of a future project near Frankfort, although some reports indicate average wind speed is not as high there as in Benton County. Even one or more projects in east-central Indiana have made the coffee shop rounds.
There's been enough talk of various possible projects that Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc., has already held one meeting on easement issues associated with wind energy projects. Indiana Farm Bureau Attorney Mark Thornburg likens it to the same role Farm Bureau has played and continues to play in areas where the commercial gas pipeline is cutting across nine Indiana counties headed east.
"We want to make sure that our members have accurate information so they can make wise decisions when it comes to signing leases," Thornburg explains. "Our goal is to make sure they understand all the ramifications, and know what questions to ask."
Local sources in Benton County report that in the first project area, where construction of pads for towers of the first project is underway and towers are supposed to be erected in the near future, lucrative easement agreements have already led to an increase in land prices on farms included in the project. Reportedly, in at least one instance, the buyer wound up paying $1,000 more than expected once the wind energy deal became reality.