Jon Berry has spent much of his life bracing against the wind.
It blows especially hard where he lives, on top of a modest ridge in Champaign County, not far northwest of Columbus. It races unobstructed out of the southwest, across fields of corn and soybeans, before climbing the ridge to Berry’s two-story white farmhouse.
“It takes your breath away in the winter,” said Berry, who farms about 175 acres when he’s not selling tractors, seed corn and farm insurance in nearby Mechanicsburg.
But his days of cursing the wind may soon be over.
The 48-year-old farmer has signed a contract with a wind energy developer in Chicago. The company wants to build up to three giant turbines on his land. Plans aren’t firm and construction would still be a couple of years away, but if the rotors are erected, it could net Berry about $30,000 a year.
Like the oilmen who invaded Texas at the beginning of the 20th century, wind energy developers have been scouring Ohio for the best places to erect turbines and create electricity.
They have been roaming the halls of Columbus to influence state legislation and calling on farmers whose land and support is vital to the entire process.
Berry estimates that 70 to 80 landowners in his immediate area have similar agreements with wind energy developers. He has signed on with Invenergy, while others have gone with a New York company called Everpower Renewables Corp.
But that’s just a slice of what’s happening.
The state’s recent energy bill provides the necessary stimulus. The new law will require investor-owned utilities to obtain at least 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. And at least half of that power must be generated in the state.
Aspects of the new legislation still need to be ironed out by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, but Mark Shanahan, Gov. Ted Strickland’s energy adviser, believes the result will encourage the harnessing of wind in the state.
Ohio’s wind belt, as it were, appears to be the relatively flat northwest quadrant of the state. There, several firms have crossed paths in pursuit of their wind projects. Iberdrola Renewables of Spain, the second-largest wind energy developer in the country, is active in Paulding and Van Wert counties. Babcock & Brown of Austin, Texas, hopes to generate 125 megawatts, or enough to power nearly 40,000 homes, in Logan County. It also has been sniffing around Lucas County.
And JW Great Lakes Wind in Cleveland has lined up close to 100 landowners as it proceeds with plans to develop eight wind projects totaling 750 megawatts. Some of its activity is in Seneca and Wood counties.
The potential investment across the state is in the billions of dollars.
Locally, JW Great Lakes is known for the feasibility study it is conducting on behalf of Cuyahoga County to see whether turbines can be built offshore in Lake Erie. Its offices are in the trendy Tower Press Building on Superior Avenue. A black spiral staircase connects the office’s two floors. Upstairs, a wall is lined with wind and electrical transmission maps.
The duties of project managers Peter Endres, who handles Ohio, and Matt Krivos, responsible for Indiana and Michigan, include coordinating with field representatives and working with state and local regulators.
Part of their job is convincing people that the turbines don’t look that bad.
“The aesthetic appeal of a turbine is inherently subjective,” Endres said. “So all we can do really is provide pictures.”
Unlike several of its competitors, JW Great Lakes does not have operating turbines in the United States. But its parent company, Juwi Gmbh of Germany, has many across Europe.
Other players in the Ohio wind game include German-owned E.On Climate & Renewables, North Coast Wind & Power and Horizon Wind Energy. And while FPL Energy, the largest wind energy developer in the country, is not active in the state, spokesman Steve Stengel said that could change.
FPL has extensive wind farms in Texas, California and the upper Midwest. It also has projects in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The turbines visible from the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Somerset belong to FPL Energy.
But the scope of wind energy development in Ohio is far from certain, Shanahan said. What developers say and do are sometimes two different things, and a lot of details still need to be hashed out. For one, projects exceeding 50 megawatts will have to be approved by the Ohio Siting Board, which has experience with a single power plant, but not with 70 to 100 turbines spread over a wide geographic area.
Turbines must be well-spaced to ensure, among other things, that they don’t steal wind from each other. And the electrical cables from each turbine must be tied into a nearby transmission line.
And, of course, if in the end a developer doesn’t think a project will make economic sense, it won’t happen.
There are also local zoning issues. In Champaign County’s Union Township, where Berry lives, an opposition group has managed to get a referendum on the November ballot to overturn a new ordinance regarding setback requirements for turbines.
Opponents bring up such concerns as noise, ice flying off turbine blades and something called “shadow flicker” – the flickering shadow cast when the sun strikes a spinning blade at a certain angle.
Champaign County Prosecutor Nick Selvaggio heads a wind turbine study group that has been meeting every Tuesday morning to discuss the issues, for and against. All sides are represented and he believes that ultimately turbines will be built in the county.
Opponents’ primary concern, he said, is that the turbines be developed in a responsible manner. He believes most residents view wind energy as “an incredible opportunity for Champaign County.”
Berry, who said he would favor the turbines even if he didn’t stand to gain from their development, believes the extra income can help offset expenses when a farmer has a bad year. Only an acre or two would have to be removed from production to accommodate each turbine, which in his case would stand nearly 400 feet tall from the base to the tip of an upturned blade.
And for all those who move to his region because they like the rural lifestyle, the presence of turbines could help sustain that dream as well.
“It’s a great farmland preservation tool,” he said.
Plain Dealer Reporter
13 May 2008
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