MOUNT GILEAD – Wind turbines will generate more than electricity in Morrow County if efforts to win the business of alternative energy companies succeed as local officials hope they will.
Responding to interest expressed by companies in erecting wind turbines in northern Morrow County, the county board of commissioners recently added zoning regulations for the machines, which typically sit atop 200-to-300-foot-plus towers, said Pat Davies, the county’s director of operations.
“There’s a lot of interest over here,” Davies said. “The land owners group is researching their options. I’m very impressed with that group. They’re looking for the best deal. There’s a lot of land that’s needed.”
Wind turbines could prove to produce a profit for land owners who would consider leasing their land for the alternative energy systems, and conserve land for farming in the traditionally agriculturally based county, said Dennis Leader, spokesman for the land owners group. The presence of the alternative power generators also would produce additional revenue through state and local income taxes, and infrastructure improvements required of the companies by the county.
The companies have focused on Troy, Perry, Congress and North Bloomfield townships, the location of one of the top two wind energy sites in Ohio excluding offshore sites in Lake Erie near Cleveland, said Leader, who lives near Johnsville in Perry Township.
If one of the commercial wind turbine projects goes forward, “It’s going to change the face of our community for quite some time,” said Leader, estimating that such a project could require approximately 7,000 acres and include 30 to 100 elevated wind turbines. One attraction of the proposed wind turbine project is that it would enable residents of the county “to keep our agricultural footprint so to speak. By putting in wind turbines it pretty much locks up the land.”
Ohio’s recent energy bill has contributed to growing interest in wind power. 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.
Leader said he initially noticed that Morrow County was gaining the attention of players in the field of alternative energy in 2006.
One company two years ago “put a few feelers out in our neighborhood,” and another company approached land owners last summer, said Leader, whose group includes approximately 70 land owners. “We’re just looking to make sure this is right for the community. It’s been a real educational curve for all of us, the community, politicians.”
“We’ve had meetings with the companies and the land owners as a group,” he said. “We have a pretty good idea of what’s important, the roads, zoning, protecting residents. One of the factors that make this a very attractive site is a 345-kilovolt transmission lines that run smack through an area that has the second-best wind in Ohio.”
County Commissioner Olen Jackson praised the other two commissioners, Rodney Clinger and Dick Miller, who “both don’t mind looking outside the box a little bit at new things. Our involvement from the commissioners office is to make sure we have in place basically the zoning rules and regulations that would allow this to happen and still protect the county’s infrastructure, the roads, and people’s property rights.”
Jackson said the land owners group assisted the commissioners in developing amendments to the county zoning code, which is in effect in seven Morrow townships, using information from the alternative energy companies.
“These wind energy companies are very happy to cooperate with us because they want to get the projects going,” Jackson said.
Of primary concern for the commissioners was making sure setback regulations from public roads and occupied dwellings protected the county’s residents and infrastructure, he said. A tower must be at least 1,000 feet away from primary structures and 1.1 times its own height from public roads, third-party transmission lines and communication towers.
Trustees for Troy Township, which isn’t covered by the county zoning regulations, are seeking to add similar amendments to their township’s zoning code, Davies said.
Currently, approximately five wind turbines are in operation in Ohio, four owned by the city of Bowling Green in northwest Ohio, and one near Cleveland.
Being among the first counties working to attract the new green energy industry pleased Davies.
“We acted fairly quickly on it, probably in a matter of three months,” she said. “We got the information and got it reviewed. We did it in conjunction with the people out there.”
Leader said the land owners group “readily shared information to make sure it’s appropriate for the community and at the same time for development of a wind farm, too.”
The land owners are considering the companies’ offers.
“Once we decide who we’re going to go with at that point in time we’ll sit down with county officials,” Leader said. “We want this to be consistent, homogenous so there are no problems down the road.”
Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife works to ensure that wind turbines in the state do not harm wildlife and comply with the Endangered Species, Migratory Bird and Golden Eagle Protection acts.
Keith Lott, a wind energy wildlife biologist, is developing pre-construction and post-construction monitoring guidelines for companies seeking to erect wind turbines.
“Basically what we’re interested in is the impact they could have either on birds or bats,” Lott said. Turbines striking birds and/or bats represents direct impact, and the construction of wind turbines frightening away birds and bats represents indirect impact. In Ohio, usually bats, not birds have been the victims of direct impact, he said.
“As an agency we want to encourage wind turbines in Ohio,” he said. “We just want to do it in an environmentally sound manner.”
Leader estimated that in Morrow County the first wind turbines will appear in 4 1/2 years at the earliest.
“The real underlying advantage (gained by having wind turbines in Morrow County) is we have generating capacity right here in Morrow County,” he said.
By John Jarvis
31 May 2008
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