The Champaign County commissioners visited the Bowling Green Wind Farm Project in Wood County on Tuesday.
“One thing we’ve heard is a landfill in Wood County is a lot different from Union Township in Champaign County, but I don’t see a lot of difference,” said Commissioner Steve Hess as he studied the site. “I see a cornfield, a farm close by, and a two-lane highway.”
While the city of Bowling Green has a much larger population than that of Urbana, with close to 30,000 residents, many of them are students at Bowling Green State University.
Wood County Commissioner James Carter, speaking with the Champaign County commissioners before their trip to the wind farm, said the project was originally proposed by university students about five years ago.
“They did a study to see if it was feasible and put up a 100-foot tower with a wind sensor,” he said. Data was collected for 12 months and the results encouraged project backers to proceed.
“With the cost at the time being $1.5 million for each turbine, the question was how are we going to pay for them?” Carter said.
That question was answered by the formation of a consortium to allow a joint venture between the city of Bowling Green, which has its own public utility system, along with American Municipal Power – Ohio, and Green Mountain Energy Corporation.
The wind farm project rents the land for the turbines from Wood County, said Kevin Maynard, utilities director for the city of Bowling Green.
“It’s actually adjacent to the landfill, in an area where the county did not anticipate expansion in the next 25 years,” he said. “We did a biotic assessment first on the avian impact and I can honestly tell you I’ve never seen a dead bird out here, but I have found a few common brown bats.”
The first two turbines were constructed and began operation in 2003, making the project the first utility-scale wind farm in the state. The second set of turbines was added in 2004 and brought the total project cost to $8.8 million.
“Now we’re looking at constructing some additional ones here … since nine other municipalities have signed on,” he said.
In addition to the city of Bowling Green, the other municipalities receiving power from the wind farm are Cuyahoga Falls, Edgerton, Monroeville, Napoleon, Oberlin, Pioneer, Montpelier and Wadsworth.
Manufactured by Vestas American Wind Technology, the tower was produced in the U.S. while the blades and nacelle were produced in Denmark. The tower’s base diameter is 15 feet and the tower height is 256 feet, with blade length of 134 feet, making the total height 391 feet. They are equipped with sensors that allow the blades to rotate and turn into the wind to maximize efficiency.
Maynard said he’s heard no complaints about the wind farm since it began operation, even from residential neighbors less than a quarter-mile away.
“You heard more traffic noise than you hear these,” he said of the turbines. “They only turn about 17 (revolutions per minute). The old ones had lattice towers that birds would nest in, and they would get up to speeds of 75 rpm, but the technology has improved enormously since the ’70s and ’80s. I’ve been in the municipal power business since 1980 and I’ve never seen a project so popular.”
Maynard said he has never witnessed “ice throw” from the turbines, even though the area gets its fair share of wintry weather.
“If ice accumulates on them, it could slough off but most of it will fall at the base,” he said. “I don’t believe (spinning blades) could heave it a quarter-mile.”
Public vs. private property
A key difference between the proposed wind farm in Union Township and the established one in Wood County is that the Bowling Green project was financed with public funds and is owned by the municipalities and their partners.
Everpower, and possibly other developers, are looking at Union Township sites to lease for installing turbines, which has caused debate at the local level in Champaign County and Union County.
Maynard said the Bowling Green wind farm pays the county rent of $1,000 per site per year, which equates to $4,000 annually right now.
“One of the things that’s going on in Iowa and Minnesota is that farmers are getting together and forming cooperatives to install their own wind farms,” Maynard said, noting that John Deere is a key sponsor. “The Farm Bureau is also supportive of (wind power) as another source of income while still being able to farm. If farmers have a couple of turbines on their land, they don’t have to worry so much about the weather and crop prices.”
Maynard said private ownership of turbines also contributes to the tax base, and Ohio’s struggling manufacturing economy could benefit from converting existing facilities to build wind power equipment.
“Price for this equipment has increased because the demand has outstripped the supply,” Maynard said. “If you want to order it, it’s currently a two-year wait. But we don’t see the risk to our community (installing more turbines). All you really have is the capital cost, very little in the way of variables.”
Maynard said while the wind turbines have been great for Wood County and the city of Bowling Green, he wouldn’t recommend them for placement across the state.
“I don’t think I would say to put them everywhere, especially not in a migratory bird flightpath or near an airport,” he said. “That being said, we’re all using more energy every day and people want that energy to be available, reliable and affordable, but no one wants a power plant in their back yard.”
However, wind farms are much more preferable to coal-fired or nuclear power plants in terms of proximity, he said.
“They have no emissions, they don’t warm up the water and kill fish and overall they’re one of the most benign ways of generating electricity that there is,” Maynard said.
“You also have to look at matters of national security,” said Commissioner Steve Hess, noting that having a local generation source would reduce reliance on foreign fossil fuels and the national power grid.
“For people around here, they’re a source of pride,” Maynard said. “We get calls every day wanting a tour. The chamber of commerce puts the wind farm in their brochure and there’s a picture of a turbine in the front window at the convention and visitor’s bureau.”
By Breanne Parcels
The Urbana Daily Citizen
23 May 2007