At Crosswind: Wind farms still promising, but with new challenges

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(Photo: Iberdrola Renewables) The Blue Creek Wind Farm in Paulding and Van Wert counties provides enough energy to power about 76,000 homes and provides energy credits to Ohio State University-Columbus.

WOOSTER, Ohio — The state’s first two major wind farms were built in western Ohio roughly three years ago on the promises they would bring new revenue to landowners, schools and communities, and, of course, produce an affordable source of alternative energy.

The projects, known as Timber Road Wind Farm and Blue Creek Wind Farm, are still young. But, according to managers of both, they’re already performing.

“The (Blue Creek) project has delivered what we said it would,” said Dan Litchfield, senior project developer.

Production results

That includes about $2.7 million in annual tax payments, $2 million annually in lease agreement payments, $600 million from the company that built the farm, and enough energy to power about 76,000 homes.

Blue Creek, in Paulding and Van Wert counties, is owned and operated by Iberdrola Renewables, an Oregon-based leader in wind energy. The farm also has a partnership with Ohio State University that provides wind energy research to students and supplies the OSU-Columbus campus with wind energy credits amounting to about 25 percent of the university’s electric needs.

Timber Road Wind Farm, Paulding County, is owned by Texas-based EDP Renewables. Its 55 turbines have a capacity of 99 megawatts — enough to power 27,000 homes each year.
Brian Alberts, operations manager, said he’s pleased with the operation and overall viability of the turbines so far, as well as the wind speed.

“We see production as it was anticipated,” he said.

Turning point

But while Ohio’s first two wind farms were promising and now have some proof to back them up, the rest of the state is at a critical point, waiting to see which way the wind will blow.

The wind itself hasn’t changed, but the political and regulatory climate has.

In June, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed S.B. 310, which froze the state’s renewable energy standard at current levels for the next two years, and also created a legislative study committee to determine if the renewable standard should stay or be amended.

And, days later, Kasich signed H.B. 483, which increases the setback distance of state-approved wind turbines to 1,125 feet, from the tip of a turbine’s blades to the nearest property line. The previous law measured the setback from the turbine to the nearest habitable residence.

Weighing options

The new laws have changed how energy companies in Ohio consider wind projects, and whether they’re worth constructing.

“It’s a disappointment because we planned these projects because of the policies that have been in place,” Litchfield said. “The change is not an encouragement to invest more in the state.”

Beyond these two farms, Ohio has approved wind farms in more than a half-dozen counties totaling 764 wind turbines, with a production potential of up to 1,401 megawatts. And there are at least four wind farms that have been proposed, in Ashtabula, Crawford and Seneca counties, as well as on Lake Erie.

The future of these projects could hinge, at least in part, on Ohio’s new policy.
“On a rudimentary level, any time you increase the setback, you reduce the amount of space that could potentially be used,” Alberts said.

Demand

But space is only part of the issue — the other is market demand.

If the state continues to relax its energy standard, or eventually does away with it, that could significantly change the incentives for wind and utility companies to invest in wind.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” said Scott Potter, senior energy adviser for Ohio State University.

Potter oversees the university’s energy usage and research, and negotiated the contract with Blue Creek to purchase 50 megawatts of energy credits to run the university, and to serve as an energy research project.

In its worst case, Potter said changes to the standard could “have a chilling effect” on future wind farms.

Optimistic

But at the same time, “there are a number of positive signs that have us optimistic,” said Paul Copleman, communications manager for Iberdrola.

Those include greater efficiency, incentives for landowners and communities, job opportunities and clean energy.

Ohio leads the nation in wind-related manufacturing, according to American Wind Energy Association, a trade group. Ohio also has wind resources available both on and offshore.
“Publicly, there seems to be an appetite,” Copleman said. “Wind works and works well.”

And while energy mandates certainly help to spur demand, there are other reasons why utility companies still want wind.

Still green

Most utility companies still have green energy plans in place — although without a mandate, they have more decision power over what they do.

Terri Flora, director of communications for AEP Ohio, told Farm and Dairy in June that AEP agreed with the governor on freezing the mandate, but, at the same time, she said the company would continue offering its energy-saving programs to customers, which includes discounts and rebates.

“We believe and know there is a place at the table” for renewable energy, Flora said, adding that “just because you support (the freeze) does not mean you’re against advanced energy or renewables.”

Monica Jensen, vice president of development for Windlab Developments USA, which plans to build the Greenwich Wind Farm in Huron County, said wind farms can guarantee a price to power companies for up to 20 years in advance.

The Greenwich Wind Farm was approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board Aug. 25.
Contrary to speculation, Jensen said the 25-turbine project is being privately funded, with no subsidies.

Pros and cons

The Greenwich project, like most wind farms, has been heavily contested by concerned residents. Road signs of support and discontent dot streets and the fronts of properties. And at least one major action group has formed in opposition to the project: Greenwich Neighbors United.

Concerns include damage to wildlife, noise, human health concerns and cost, among others.

Jensen said one of the biggest issues is communication. She said “there’s a lot of misinformation that gets passed around pretty quickly.”

Her company tries to answer questions about the project, but it’s reached a point of “back and forth study volley,” she said, adding that what it boils down to is “some people just don’t like them.”

Land use

While a wind turbine does stand out, standing nearly 500 feet tall, wind companies work to fit the turbines in with existing topography. The companies also allow as much normal activity — such as farming — as close to the turbines as is reasonable.

The Greenwich Wind Farm includes a lease region of more than 4,600 acres, however, the turbines and access roads usually take up less than an acre per turbine. Farmers are compensated through their lease agreements.

“A lot of the farmers are happier in the end because the wind energy companies allow them to use the access roads,” Potter said. “They lose very little agricultural acreage.”

Review process

A wind farm of 5 megawatts or more must receive a siting certificate by the 11-member Ohio Power Siting Board. The process includes a statutory review and public hearings.

The board consists of seven voting members: the chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, directors of the Ohio EPA, the departments of agriculture, natural resources and health, the Development Services Agency and a public member.

Matt Butler, public outreach manager for the board, said the board does an “across-the-board review” of proposals, including the environmental impacts, public health and safety, and how well the proposed facility fits with the existing power structure.

In the case of wind farms, the developer must also specify a plan for decommissioning the project, in the event that it should cease operations. Certificates often require the land be restored to pre-construction conditions or better.

Listening to concerns

Butler said the board conducts investigations, meets with project developers and holds public hearings in the communities where the projects are proposed.

He said public comments are reviewed, and board members often learn new things through those comments.

For the most part, people are “very civil and polite,” but at the same time, it can be emotional.

“Any time someone is proposing to build something in your neighborhood, people react differently,” he said.

Butler said the board strives to be neutral and unbiased toward which power sources it approves, and also does not get involved with lease agreements among property owners.

“We’re not a proponent of one resource over the other,” he said.

As for which direction future wind farms will go, Butler said “it’s really up to the developers at this point.”

When they have an approved certificate in hand, he said, they’re free to do what they want.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Chris Kick. Very good writing with a fair amount of balance considering the target audience of the publication for which it is written. However, you have been flatly duped by several interviewees in the story. Please contact me to discuss the matter in detail, should you be interested in understanding it more thoroughly. Thank you.

    For the rest of you all, I recommend reading materials published by the following:

    Dr. Roger McEowen: http://www.calt.iastate.edu/article/wind-energy-production-legal-issues-and-related-liability-concerns-landowners-iowa-and

    Dr. George S. Taylor and former CEC commissioner, Thomas Tanton: http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2012/12/21/why-its-the-end-of-the-line-for-wind-power/ (a link to the paper is embedded in the Forbes article)

    and President Obama’s own White House staff in the infamous “shepherd Flats memo”: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/279802/america-s-worst-wind-energy-project-robert-bryce

    Is it any wonder the Iberdrola wind shill (a Spanish, not US company) is quoted as saying “Wind works and works well”? It surely does for the foreign investor – at US rate and taxpayer expense. But for about 5% of the booty we can get US farm owners on board? I think deep down we are all far more patriotic than that.

  2. Well written but could of did some interviews of area landowners who have lived under the wind farm. I live in Riga Michigan and we lost the economic development of a Wind Farm. The promise of millions in tax dollars still couldn’t persuade the naysayers who many did not live in our community or have since moved away. Well its been four years now and the community is struggling with lack of tax dollars to fix our roads and fund our fire department. We now have two mega natural gas pipelines proposed to run through the county. This will be forced and the same anti wind people are now fighting it. As a people we have chose fossil fuel over alternative energy. I have travel to many a wind farm and never find them to be objectionable. I talked with people who have lived next to them and have no problems living within one thousand feet of them. I have yet to find a article that does the hard work of interviewing a Wind Farm community. This would be a great service to those of us who follow the Wind industry. I would love to know if my findings are the norm.

    • I agree with Paul Wohlfarth. Eyewitness testimony about life inside a wind development is important.

      Here you go:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Q4cJ0m821g

      And Michigan’s once “pro-wind” counties are now getting cold feet.

      Huron County in Michigan’s “Thumb” is a prime example. They have more turbines than the rest of the state combined and they appear to have had their fill. They are adopting a moratorium and intend to regulate wind development much more aggressively: http://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/20872

      Mason County has adopted a moratorium as has Schoolcraft. Delta County is considering it as well.

      Every time wind development has been placed on the ballot in a MI township it has been rejected by nearly a 2:1 margin. And the statewide attempt to place a 25% renewable energy mandate requirement in the State constitution was rejected by similarly wide margins, 64-36%, despite the efforts of SIerra Club and fossil fuel billionaire Tome Steyer.

  3. I’ve visited a couple of wind farms, but haven’t had to live near one. Most people I’ve heard from living around them don’t mind them. A few have health concerns when strobing shadows cause headaches or nervous system issues, and I’ve heard noise complaints, but these seem to be few. I’ve also been around a couple of natural gas horizontal fracking wells in SE Ohio. Again most people don’t seem to mind them but some complain about noise and odors. I found the odors to be strong and nauseating. We also know how dirty coal-burning power plants are and the issues with disposing of spent nuclear fuel for nuclear power. Solar and hydro power are also options, but also have a few drawbacks. The point is we are all consumers of electricity, and it has to be produced somewhere by someone. Few of us want our land or neighborhoods to be affected by electric production. Well, folks, we can’t have it both ways. If you want electricity, then you should have to share some of the burden of its production. We need to continue developing alternative energy to supplement the fossil fuels and nuclear energy the provides the bulk of our current power. At some point, however, 100 years, 200 years from now, fossil fuels will be spent and today’s alternative energy could be our only choices.

    • Thank you Dee for your comments. I support alternative energy and as time passes and resources dwindle its importance only grows. I do wish someone in media would do a non bias investigative story about the impact these wind farms have had. From what I’ve learned the opposition goes away after the community sees that most of what was said was overblown rhetoric and the tax money flows in from the project. I don’t want anyone to take my word for it but we need an objective report on this. We had one from a reporter from the Blissfield Advance about four years ago. He went and visited several communities that had Wind Farms. His story mirrored my experiences where after about one year the opposition dies down.

  4. The most devastating part of wind energy mandates is the incredibly poor value wind energy presents as a means of CO2 avoidance:

    brookings.edu/research/papers/2014/05/low-carbon-electricity-technologies-frank

  5. Hello Kevon haven’t heard from your Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition lately. Thought your non profit group would be fighting the injustice of oil companies abusing eminent domain laws to steal land to build 42″ high pressure natural gas pipeline in Ogden Township. But we know that your alliegence lies with the fossil fuel industry. Your group has basically stopped alternative energy in both Michigan and Ohio. Now we have these dangerously explosive natural gas pipelines criss crossing our private property. I’ll take a wind farm over a industrial pipebomb any day. At least communities can enjoy some income from wind farms whereas the pipeline just privatizes the profits and socializes the risk to communities and landowners.

    • Paul:

      Despite years of interacting with you you still do not grasp one of the most basic concepts of energy generation with a high percentage of variable generators like wind and solar: they are almost wholly dependent upon gas-fired generation for grid integration.

      In other words the reason DTE needs to run this gas line up County Line Hwy. or an alternate route is because the Obama EPA is clamping down on coal and driving demand for wind and solar which forces the utilities to build gas generation. Your environmental pals have driven the cleanest form of generation to the brink: nuclear. (You could check with your friends at Exelon about that.)

      How do we know wind is fully dependent upon gas fired generation for grid integration?

      GE’s engineers told President Obama precisely that in this memo:

      http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/assets/oira_2060/2060_07232013-1.pdf

      “Renewable power, especially from wind and solar, will be expected to fluctuate hourly and even minute-to-minute with changes in wind speed, cloud cover, and other environmental factors. With this
      generation mix, electric supply must be available to quickly compensate for the
      combined variability of demand and fluctuation in the renewable supply. When
      this highly variable renewable energy supply is overlaid on existing already variable
      electric demand, the importance of increased operational flexibility for
      each electric generating unit on the grid becomes apparent.

      Gas turbine technology is uniquely capable of providing this operational
      flexibility, especially when compared to nuclear and coal-fired generation
      technologies. ”

      And:

      “… if flexible generation assets, such as gas turbines, are not available, these renewable
      technologies will not be deployed. In other words, gas turbines are an essential
      component of renewable energy sources’ ability to penetrate the market. ”

      In other words the gas line headed your way is a direct result of the green policies you purport to favor.

      And when the eminent domain commences and the pipe gets laid you will have the Obama EPA’s Clean Power Plan and PA295 to thank.

      I am a little surprised you don’t enjoy sleeping in this bed: after all, you helped make it.

      • Nothing has changed Kevon. As Mark Twain quote made famous, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Finding that one guy who lives next a wind farm in Illinois with an axe to grind is old hat. I remember this guy seems he built a McMansion in an area of modest homes only to find himself with a wind farm around him. If I remember right this guy was complaining about property devaluation when any real estate agent would of told him of the foolishness of building a huge home in an area of average. You can’t blame a wind farm for that! Especially after the 2008 housing crisis.

        Also Kevon its not me who’s getting the pipeline its your brother in Ogden. Here’s something to contemplate while you’re trolling the internet for your next wind farm story. Germany Sets New Record, Generating 74 Percent Of Power Needs From Renewable Energy http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/05/13/3436923/germany-energy-records/

  6. Not one thing you say here contradicts the extremely valid point I made, namely: it is the environmental movement’s hatred of coal and love of renewables that is forcing the gas lines to be built.

    Secondly, the video I posted is about the mistreatment of a Michigan man at the hands of one of Michigan’s largest fossil fuel utilities as they built the Lakewinds wind plant. Not sure why you are talking about Illinois.

    And regarding Germany and their “success” you need to point out 2 things: their retail rates for electricity are now triple those of the US and as as a result industry is starting to flee the country. Secondly, due to Germany’s anti-nuclear policy, coal emissions are rising in Germany even as they build economy-crippling wind and solar.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/02/140211-germany-plans-to-raze-towns-for-brown-coal/

    • Just watched your video and I side with Cary. You know I always fought for those who were adversely impacted and couldn’t live with the consequences. I advocated a complete buyout of those who justifiably were affected. These people are in the minority and with the 1,500 foot setbacks most were not affected. The pipeline that your brother is fighting has no setbacks. The EPA is working with the same people you worked with Kevon http://www.globalwarming.org/2014/05/15/regulatory-capture-comes-full-circle-at-the-epa/ They can place a 42″ explosive pipeline 10 feet from say, for example, Cary’s home. We have people coming to our meetings crying in disbelief that no one is looking out for their families safety. They are traumatized to the fact that they could go to bed and never wake up from a catastrophic explosion.. As I said before I’ve visited many a wind farm and have talked to many people who live by them. Never found anyone who has the problems that Cary speaks of. I’m not making light of Cary’s situation but am calling on our Media to do a non partisan investigative report to the families living under these wind farms. You remember the reporter from the Blissfield Advance a James McClenathen back in oh I believe 2011 who went and visited a up and running wind farm in Illinois or Indiana. He came back with a positive story of no ill affects. James had no axe to grind and went looking for the truth.

      • It is amazing that you side with Cary. The turbines are identical to those proposed for Riga Township. The setbacks are larger than those proposed for Riga by juwi. The noise limits are lower than juwi proposed for Riga. And the acoustic consultant retained by CMS Energy in Ludington assured the community there would be no problems.

        Oddly enough he made that same promise here. Why? It was the same man making the assurances: Peter Guldberg of Tech Environmental.

        You do recall that both Mason County and Huron County have adopted or are about to adopt moratoria due to noise complaints from wind turbines? You do recall that Huron County is where Russ Lundberg came from and that he assured us that HC loved the turbines? Not so much anymore: they have 328 and are fed up.

  7. There is something odd about the photograph at the header of this article. Transmission towers (pylons) are typically between 125 and 150 ft. tall. The wind turbines in the two projects in northwest Ohio are over 400 feet tall. Yet the pylon on the left appears to be further from the camera than the wind turbine to its right. Bear in mind that single story homes vary in height from about 15 ft. to 20 ft. and two story homes from about 25 to 30 feet. Intentionally or not, I believe this photograph is a very poor representation of wind turbine machinery scale that could be misleading to many visitors.

  8. To make wind power viable in Ohio developers insist on extending the setback as much as 685 feet from the turbine across neighboring property lines without the owner’s consent. Once that happens the affect land cannot be used for residential building and many banks will not issue mortgages on land so encumbered. The neighboring land owners have no recourse — too bad for them.

  9. Ironic that the state of Ohio requires a safety setback of 1,125 feet from the tip of a turbine’s blades to the nearest property line and requires no safety setbacks for explosive high pressure natural gas pipelines.

    • Sounds to me like two wrongs don’t make a right, but the risk analysis actuaries in the insurance industry should be the ones who can best determine the relative risks. Of course safety is FAR from the only property rights issue with industrial wind development.

  10. It’s all a dirty business, when these projects come to your community those beneath it’s footprint forfeit their rights in the matter immediately. The money these schemes bring is front page news with no mention for the victims. I was given no choice or offer of compensation. My home was valued at $73,000, after they built the Blue Creek Wind Farm around it the property last sold for $16,500. Neither I nor my neighbors have been compensated for this disaster. 10038 Elm Sugar Rd. Scott, Ohio.

    https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/10038-Elm-Sugar-Rd-Scott-OH-45886/86648999_zpid/

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