The Van Wert County Commissioners had planned a vote for Tuesday on the taxation of a proposed wind farm in Van Wert County. But the vote did not happen. Instead the commissioners called for another delay as they wait for answers to a couple of issues – answers that may be weeks away.
Commissioner Harold Merkle stated, “We have confidence that this is going to happen. But on the other hand, if we’re put on the spot to vote today, and we don’t know what’s in that agreement, plus the Ohio Department of Development hasn’t even written their rules yet, and SB 232 says we don’t have to vote until 30 days after the ODOD has sent the application back to us. So we may be three or four months ahead of schedule just to get the project started, which is not bad as long as we understand what the project is going to be.”
At the end of the meetings, Commissioner Gary Adams told the Times Bulletin that he was hoping to take a vote sometime next week. The decision is whether or not to declare the county an Alternative Energy Zone, which would change the way the wind farm would pay taxes. Instead of property taxes, the power company, Iberdrola Renewables, would pay a flat fee per megawatt of electricity generated by the wind turbines. That fee would likely be $7,000 per MW, but the commissioners could add an additional fee to make the total $9,000 per MW or $18,000 per wind turbine.
Iberdrola has been pushing for the declaration in Van Wert County, just as was done in Paulding County, but the process has been slow with the commissioners searching for information to make the decision easier. The wind energy company wants to begin pouring foundations for turbines on Sept. 8, which means the window for the commissioners’ vote is getting very small.
If the commissioners choose not to declare an Alternative Energy Zone, the only way to get the project back on track is with a local enterprise zone agreement with the townships. When the commissioners met with Iberdrola officials two weeks ago, both Commissioner Clair Dudgeon and Adams shared their belief that the project would never be built if a local abatement had to be negotiated.
Two meetings were held in the commissioners’ conference room Tuesday. The first was for township trustees to bend the ears of the commissioners. The second involved superintendents and treasurers from Van Wert, Lincolnview, and Crestview. Each of the groups has its own set of concerns about the wind farm agreement.
In the morning session, trustees from Hoaglin, Union, and Tully townships talked with the commissioners. The Hoaglin group has been very vocal in their displeasure with the newly-signed law formerly known as Senate Bill 232. The provisions, which include an Alternative Energy Zone, end up taking the power to abate taxes away from townships and school districts.
But the biggest controversy for the trustees is the road agreement between the county and Iberdrola. The document, which is designed to be the rulebook of how roadways damaged by heavy equipment is to be repaired, is still far from completion. A lawyer representing the townships is only now reviewing Iberdrola’s proposed agreement. No answers from that attorney is expected before late next week at best.
The Hoaglin Township trustees minced no words over their opinon of Iberdrola’s road proposal. “The agreement they offered us is not really an agreement. It’s an insult. We must protect our township,” declared Hoaglin Township Trustee Milo Schaffner. “Their agreement is nothing more than a rape of Hoaglin Township.”
Tully Township Trustee Phil Kreischer claimed that declaring an Alternative Energy Zone would take the last of the trustees’ power away. “If you folks sign 232, we will have no teeth whatsoever.”
“If you support the townships, then you cannot adopt this,” warned Schaffner.
In the afternoon, representatives of Lincolnview, Crestview, and Van Wert City Schools discussed the unknowns of funding – both present and future. The question of whether the PILOT payment through an Alternative Energy Zone declaration would result in more or less money for the schools than a local abatement.
The consensus answer was that no one knew. The school officials all seemed to agree that while the local abatement might work out better in the long run, the possibility of such an agreement actually being worked out in time for the project was remote.
In the end, the superintendents and treasurers deferred to the commissioners. Van Wert City Schools Superintendent Ken Amstutz summarized, “If the commissioners can look yourselves in the mirror, if you can sleep at night, if you believe this is what is best for this county and that you are getting the best future investment for the school districts and the townships… I think the decision that you guys make will be what is best.”
A few other interested parties gave their own opinions as well. Ridge Township resident and Lincolnview Board of Education member Eric Germann supported the Alternative Energy Zone, not as a perfect solution, but as the best the county will get. Germann also shared that he has attended hearings in Columbus and that he has had no issues whatsoever dealing with Iberdrola Project Manager Dan Litchfield.
Van Wert County Economic Development Director Nancy Bowen shared letters from a consulting firm and the Highway Department in Livingston County, Illinois, where another Iberdrola wind farm has been built. Both letters supported the wind energy company as being quick to respond to problems and easy to work with on the project in that state.
Dudgeon told Iberdrola representative Jim O’Connor, “These letters from the Livingston County Highway Department is a strong piece of evidence that supports that you do what you tell us you’re going to do.”
The problem of conflicting and sometimes erroneous information circulating in the county was also cited as spreading discord among county residents. Adams shared his disgust as he held up a copy of a mass-mailed page credited to “a coalition of citizens and local elected officials for fiscal responsibility.” He said, “This thing has gone on so long, and there have been so many meetings. I’m not saying people are lying, I’m just saying there is not proper information getting out there. We received a letter that was mailed to everybody over the weekend, no name and address. I put those in the shredder. Improper documentation, improper numbers, somebody spent a lot of postage and they don’t have the guts to even sign it!”
The other piece of information the commissioners have been seeking should be coming on Monday. That is the day the Ohio Power Siting Board is expected to issue certification for Iberdrola’s Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert County. Commissioner Harold Merkle stated that he wants to be sure there are no changes in the project rules included with the certification.
“I’m still of the opinion that we at least need an answer back from the siting board. I’ve indicated that in our meetings before that I didn’t want to vote before the 23rd because we don’t know what the siting board is going to tell us,” stated Merkle.
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