Amid staunch distrust and accusations, AMP-Ohio CEO Mark Gerken asked Plain and Liberty township residents for understanding and cooperation during Wednesday’s meeting with planners for a Wood County wind farm.
This was the second meeting AMP, JW Great Lakes and Bowling Green Utilities held to address concerns of residents in the area once identified as a possible site for wind power generation. Gerken promised that planners are not working with a map that singles them out and asked them to promise to throw away any map they have seen, as well as asking them to look at the project from the perspective of long-term energy needs.
“Trust me, AMP-Ohio and its members are not going to install something if all we get are people calling in and saying they don’t like it,” he said, noting that the feasibility study now underway does not have a specific site in mind and that the project will not go forward if deemed unworkable. “I would be crazy if I were to spend all my time on one little square (on the map). If I do that I am going to have huge problems.”
Residents were alarmed weeks earlier when Bryan Starry, former project development director for JWGL, which AMP hired to conduct preliminary studies, began approaching landowners about their interest in leasing for turbine placement. AMP representatives and Mark Steffen, Starry’s interim replacement, said Starry got too far ahead of normal procedure and did not communicate with them.
Despite repeated assurances Saturday and Wednesday, attendees displayed difficulty grasping that Plain and Liberty townships are not the sites under focus. Nor, said Gerken, should they have been the only sites considered, which was a major oversight of Starry’s that AMP now aims to correct.
Opposition voiced at the meeting centered largely on the proximity of turbines to homes, with some expressing reluctant acceptance while others asserted they would only be happy if the turbines were placed in the middle of the desert. Phil Titus, who oversees a group of concerned citizens, remarked that it would be “cruel, heartless and callous” if the turbines were placed so that both they and the four turbines at the county landfill were all visible from his house.
Company representatives responded that while wind power and proximity to existing Bowling Green transmission systems are important in determining a site, there is room for flexibility. Costs such as transmission line length are a factor, but they promised to thoroughly consider their options.
Attendees also called for more inquisition into who to blame for upsetting them. Ritch Adams received applause from attendees when he called for more planners than just Starry to be “thrown under the bus,” remarking that county and village officials seem to have put money above residents? concerns.
“It’s difficult to believe, when you throw the word trust around. We feel that economic development in Wood County is involved,” he told planners. “We feel our site was selected because our trustees would benefit, that it was a convenient site to put through.”
Gerken said he was shocked at the steps Starry had taken but that there is no sense in pointing fingers now, and promised better communication and accountability as they start the study again from scratch. He addressed other fears by affirming that eminent domain “is a dirty word in our organization and doesn’t make sense for us to do,” that AMP doesn’t intend to close down airports or other businesses, and that the $2 million state grant Starry obtained – meant to lower electricity production costs once the system is running – is not a driving force in the project.
Potential benefits of the wind farm, he said, include more freedom from outside power suppliers and less reliance on coal – a power source he expects to become more costly “not if, but when, carbon becomes heavily taxed. He added that it may be possible for whichever area that hosts the wind farm to receive power from it, but that is up to Bowling Green and not within the scope of AMP’s preliminary study.
He and other representatives noted that contacting potentially affected residents would not be needed until later in the project, once they actually know who those homeowners might be. The intended steps for the project first require a general picture of wind power and cost in order to decide to move forward or not, and only then would they begin looking at location, turbine size and number, noise levels and numerous other concerns.
But the company is seeking input from throughout Wood County even at this early stage and hopes to meet with a community input group next month, after holding internal meetings to evaluate expected costs. Gerken only asked that they be realistic and willing to work with everybody.
September 20, 2007
Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune
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