Two companies are looking into developing wind farms in southwestern Grant County, and county officials are preparing for a possible increase in windmills through a new ordinance.

Wind energy was discussed at Tuesday’s Grant County commissioners meeting. Ken Ellis, area plan director, said there will be a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday to discuss a new county ordinance with guidelines for people and companies that want to build wind towers.

Company representatives from Horizon Wind Energy LLC and E.On U.S. confirmed after the meeting that they are in the early stages of developing wind farms in the southwestern part of the county. While exact locations were not disclosed, both said they have been talking with landowners to find where they can lease property to put up dozens of wind towers to generate energy to sell to utility companies.

“It’s very preliminary right now,” said Andy Melkin, project manager with E.On U.S. “We’re getting close to having a little bit more momentum.”

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Melkin said the company is looking to begin construction on 70 to 125 towers in 2011 and start generating energy in 2012. The $400 million project would boost the economy as well, Melkin said, because it would create construction jobs. Once the towers are built, there would be six to 10 full-time jobs managing the wind farm. The project could also generate significant property taxes, he said.

Ryan Brown, project manager for Horizon Wind Energy LLC, said his company is also looking into southwest Grant County, on the border of Howard County. He said a test tower will go up soon to determine if the project is feasible.

Eventually, there could be 50 to 65 towers with Horizon, representing a $200 million investment, Brown said. The company is also looking at beginning operation in 2012, Brown said.

Brown said communities in Indiana so far have welcomed Horizon, because the wind farms bring jobs and economic development. He said there would eventually be 10 to 15 full-time jobs to come from the project.

Ellis said at the meeting that besides the two companies, there have also been individual people lately who have asked his department about regulations on building windmills.

“Residentially, we have no ordinance that governs windmills,” Ellis said. “It’s important (to have one) because of the height requirement.”

Under the proposed ordinance, residential windmills must be set away from other property because of their height and the potential for damage if they should fall. He said property owners also can buy easements from neighbors to secure the space required.

Other guidelines in the ordinance include safety and installation standards. Ellis said the ordinance would promote wind energy in Grant County, and he expects windmills to become more popular.

“The more the interest in windmills, the more the technology will follow,” he said.

There may be more than one public hearing over the wind energy ordinance, Ellis said.

He also told the commissioners about other projects his department is working on, including a zoning overlay for the Interstate 69 interchanges at Ind. 18 and Ind. 22.

The department is also looking toward being more proactive in removing and cleaning up unsafe structures. Ellis said if properties are sold to adjacent neighbors after they are cleaned up or demolished, the county would be able to collect property taxes from them again.

Also at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting:

oRepresentatives from Johnson Controls and J and T Systems Inc. presented bids for heating and cooling systems for county property. Commissioners also briefly discussed a proposal from a third company, Trane. The county’s current contract with Johnson Controls expires this year; commissioners took the information under advisement and will make a decision later.

oTom Gosser, Jonesboro Street and Utilities superintendent, said there is a large gravel backup at Back Creek under a bridge at Ind. 22. He said it could be causing flooding in Jonesboro.

Commissioners and David White, highway superintendent, said the state may take care of the issue because it’s under a bridge on a state highway.

oCommissioners OK’d the application for a $10,000 grant from the Indiana State Department of Health. The money would be directed to the Grant County Health Department for bioterrorism preparedness.

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