Is the next big industry coming to this part of Ohio already blowing in the wind?
Some people are saying that the development of wind energy could provide incredible growth in manufacturing jobs in the state and provide landowners with the chance to catch the wind as a cash crop.
At a meeting last week in Paulding sponsored by the Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB), Dale Arnold, OFB director of energy services, laid out the facts to interested farmers and other residents. Specifically, Arnold covered the characteristics needed for a good windfarm site, how the wind turbines work, and how property leasing usually occurs with energy companies.
Jennifer Smith, OFB organization director for this area noted, “It’s so hot right now as a renewable energy resource. And Paulding County is a lower income area, so any way these people can use to make money, and these windmill people are paying to be able to use their property, and they are able to get that income.”
Smith said the meeting was geared toward landowners in the southern half of Paulding County, but that many of the same characteristics needed for a windfarm site are found in Van Wert County as well.
Nancy Bowen, Van Wert County economic development director, agreed, “Our area is perfect for windfarms.”
Windmills were fixtures on Midwest farms for many years. Some still operate today, although most have either been dismantled or stand in a state of disrepair.
But these are not the same windmills depended upon by previous generations. Commercial turbines stand 391 feet tall and are able to function normally in up to 56 mph winds. The turbines also don’t stand alone. Smith pointed out that most commercial wind farms are looking to put up at least 10 structures at one site for efficiency.
The first utility-size wind farm in Ohio was begun almost five years ago near Bowling Green. The AMP-Ohio/Green Mountain Energy Wind Farm was dedicated Nov. 7, 2003. Since that time, rising oil and gas prices have continued to push alternative energy sources to the forefront of conversation in this country.
But is wind farming and related businesses really a big business opportunity? For most people the jury is still out on that topic. The Renewable Energy Policy Project predicts that the state could pick up a projected $3.9 billion in investment and 11,688 new manufacturing jobs, ranking second behind California in the number of jobs potentially gained from an increased investment in wind power.
Arnold claims that by the year 2025 a quarter of the nation’s energy needs could be provided by agriculture through alternative energies like wind and ethanol.
Still, wind farms draw considerable fire from environmental groups who claim many birds are needlessly killed by the blades of the turbines. Others worry about possible decreased property values from being located near a wind farm. But, as Smith pointed out, that worry may be unfounded.
“I don’t know of many people who don’t like to watch the turbines,” she commented. “At Bowling Green, people come there to see them. It’s sort of a tourist attraction. I understand why they might worry, but I haven’t met the people who think these are unsightly.”
At many informational meetings Arnold holds on wind farming, he is met with at least one or two people who are vehemently opposed to having turbines erected in their area. He once had to be escorted into a meeting by law enforcement due to the number and intensity of some of the anti-wind demonstrators. The meeting at Paulding, however, had no demonstrators or placards. The attendees were polite with no visible signs of protest.
“I didn’t see anyone who was talking under their breath or looked like they were upset by anything,” Smith reported. “The meeting was attended by a lot of farmers and landowners who were interested in making good use of their land, finding out about another possible way to make money, and to be a part of something “green” which is really popular today.”
According to Arnold, a company needs 10 open acres to put up a turbine, although the actual operational footprint is just two acres. The site also needs to be in close proximity to current electric transmission infrastructure. Many areas of southern Paulding County and even northern Van Wert County are possible targets of companies looking to lease property.
Smith admitted that she wouldn’t be surprised to see the tall white turbines popping up on the local landscape sometime in the future. “Many farmers are looking to find ways to make money from their land,” she said. “For some it might even be a way to cut back a little on the work – lease some land for a wind farm and make money that way.”
By Ed Gebert
Times Bulletin News Writer
5 July 2008
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