Shooting the breeze about wind energy

LONDON, Ohio – Summer breezes aren’t traditionally associated with energy production, but a growing number of consumers and researchers are finding out that wind can do more than just cool us down on a hot day.
During Farm Science Review Sept. 18-20, several educational sessions were devoted to wind energy and wind turbines.
Potential. The concept of wind energy is slowly catching on in Ohio and it’s an area with a lot of potential, according to Kemp Jaycox of Green Energy Ohio. But creating or using wind energy isn’t a viable option for everyone – you’ve got to live in windy area to make it work.
Ohio’s best wind is centered in the northwest portion of the state, with some good wind areas stretching into eastern Ohio along Lake Erie. Studies have shown that small turbines need wind speeds of 10-11 mph at a height of 100 meters up to operate properly.
For commercial turbines, wind speeds need to reach 13-14 mph.
In northwest Ohio, wind speeds at that height are usually 14-19 mph, making it a prime spot for wind energy creation.
Coal. Wind energy has several benefits for Ohioans, according to Ohio State University economist Fred Hitzhusen. For starters, wind energy would decrease Ohio’s dependence on coal.
While the U.S. uses coal to make 50 percent of its energy, Ohio uses coal to make 90 percent of its energy, Hitzhusen said. And about 60 percent of the coal Ohio uses has to be imported.
Many people believe that coal is a good energy source due to its low cost, but Hitzhusen said there there’s more to consider than the bottom line. The cost of acid rain, mine risks and damage done downstream from strip-mines should be counted in the cost of coal.
When those factors are included, renewable energy may be cheaper, he said.
But that’s not to say wind energy doesn’t have its drawbacks, as well. Those downsides just aren’t as large as the downsides of coal, Hitzhusen said.
Studies have shown that reduced visual aesthetics and bird and bat mortality are two of potentially negative impacts of wind turbines.
“My hunch is that, when we’re done with this, these renewables, from a holistic standpoint, will be much more cost efficient,” the economist said.
Options. If your area doesn’t meet the criteria for a wind turbine, don’t give up on renewable energy. There are other choices.
“What’s recommended is people look at both solar and wind,” Jaycox said.
If you do have enough wind to create energy, you have to decide if it will be solely for personal use or if you’re interested in selling power back to the gird.
Zoning. Peggy Kirk Hall of OSU Extension said one of the problems facing wind energy is zoning laws, which don’t give clear stipulations for the turbines. While local zoning laws can’t prohibit agricultural practices, Ohio doesn’t define wind as agriculture.
Zoning can’t prohibit public utilities either, but the law doesn’t define those utilities so legal experts are looking to case laws to determine if wind turbines should be zoned.
Another problem for wind energy is high upfront costs. A 1 megawatt commercial turbine is about $1.8 million.
For someone considering wind energy, Jaycox and Hitzhusen said the most important thing to do is research all the options. Look into local zoning laws, talk with power companies and make sure it’s the right decision for your property.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Former reporter Janelle Skrinjar wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2005 to 2009. More Stories by Janelle Skrinjar

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