Blackford County officials checking which way wind blows
By SETH SLABAUGH
MONTPELIER -- Not that many years ago, an ethanol "gold-rush" swept through East Central Indiana.
Ethanol plants costing several hundred million dollars were built in Randolph, Jay, Madison and Grant counties, while proposed construction in Blackford, Henry and Delaware counties never came to fruition.
Now we're seeing the same mentality in the wind-energy industry.
Subsidiaries of large Spanish and German companies, as well as Indiana Michigan Power, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, one of the nation's largest generators of electricity, are planning or discussing wind farms in Randolph, Jay and Delaware counties.
The latest wind prospector looking at East Central Indiana is Wecso Wind, a small, homegrown firm looking at Wells County and Blackford County, where officials are skeptical.
"I can tell you we are trying to do our homework," said Blackford County Commissioner Bob O'Rourke. "That's why we're bringing in the Indiana Farm Bureau, to educate citizens on what to look for when contracts are presented."
A Farm Bureau attorney and a Purdue Extension educator will be among the speakers during a meeting at 7 p.m. today in the Montpelier School gymnasium.
The meeting will provide tips to land owners about signing a contract to lease their land to a wind developer.
Like O'Rourke, Rob Cleveland, director of economic development in Blackford County, is skeptical of some of the claims made by Wesco, which says on its Web site that it is a grassroots wind development company that locates and develops wind farm sites in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
Wells County resident Ike Huffman, one of Wesco Wind's principals, says he delivered petroleum to farms, homes and businesses for 45 years before getting involved in wind energy.
He calls himself "a little man" who has helped put together wind farms.
"We are on the move with other companies just as big as Horizon," Huffman said in an interview. "I've already got four going with Apex Wind (Energy) out of (Charlottesville) Virginia."
Horizon Wind Energy, Houston, Texas (a subsidiary of a Spanish company, EDP Renewables) has leased land for a wind farm in Randolph County.
"You've got to have somebody like me out in the field doing this work," Huffman said. "I know the territories. I know the people. If you don't get the ground, it doesn't go. I'm trying to get 10,000 acres."
One wind farm can be a half-billion-dollar project, he said. "Instead of a gold rush, this is a wind rush."