VAN WERT – The Van Wert County Commission 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. The answers 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 Senate Bill 232 (now state law) 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 meeting, Commissioner Gary Adams told the Van WertTimes 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 likely would 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 small.
If the commissioners choose not to declare an Alternative Energy Zone, the only way to get the project 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 said 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 discuss the matter with the commissioners. The second involved superintendents and treasurers from Van Wert, Lincolnview and Crestview. Each of the groups has its own 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 vocal in its displeasure with the newly-signed law formerly known as Senate Bill 232. The provisions, which include an Alternative Energy Zone, take power to abate taxes away from townships and school districts.
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 are to be repaired, is far from completion. A lawyer representing the townships is reviewing Iberdrola’s proposed agreement. No answers from the attorney are expected before late next week at best.
The Hoaglin Township trustees minced no words over their opinion 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,” said Schaffner.
In the afternoon, representatives of Lincolnview, Crestview and Van Wert City Schools discussed the unknowns of funding – both present and future. The question is whether the payment in lieu of taxes through an Alternative Energy Zone declaration would result in more or less money for the schools than a local abatement.
The school officials seemed to agree that while the local abatement may work better in the long run, the possibility of an agreement being worked out in time for the project is 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. 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 said he has attended hearings in Columbus and has no issues 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, Ill., where an Iberdrola wind farm has been built. Both letters supported the wind energy company as being quick to respond to problems.
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 erroneous information circulating in the county was cited as spreading discord among county residents. Adams expressed 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.”
On Monday, 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.