The green light for construction of a wind farm in Van Wert and Paulding counties was given Thursday afternoon with a split decision from the Van Wert County Commissioners.
Two of the three commissioners approved the declaration of an Alternative Energy Zone (AEZ) in the county. This allows Blue Creek Wind Farm to make a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) rather than pay property taxes. The PILOT program was set up by recently-passed Senate Bill 232.
Dan Litchfield, Iberdrola Renewables business developer, was happy with the final outcome. “I’m feeling very, very satisfied. It’s a win-win solution like we’ve advocated. This will allow the project to move forward,” he stated. “We now have a certificate as of Monday. We have the resolution as of today, so we should be starting Sept. 9 as expected, and start creating new jobs and new energy for Van Wert County very soon.”
The lone vote against the AEZ came from Harold Merkle who said he would have preferred individual decisions for each potential project. “I think every project should stand on its own,” shared Merkle. “However, when you ask questions, you find answers you didn’t want to hear, and the answer we found yesterday was you can’t do that until after the rules are adopted by the Department of Development and the application has been forwarded to you by the Department of Development. That means we can’t accept this project today on its merit as an individual project. The only alternative to have is to consider the AEZ.”
The Ohio Department of Development still has not approved the rules, so the commissioners were faced with making a decision with enough time to allow Iberdrola to get construction underway on schedule but not for the state bureaucracy to work through the details.
The debate over the wind farm, which has stretched out over the past two years, saw no signs of stopping at the meeting’s outset. Tully Township Trustee Phil Kreischer shared his uneasiness of not having a completed road agreement between the county and Iberdrola Renewables. Kreischer asked that a decision be delayed until the agreement could be finalized.
Litchfield countered that the wind energy company has been working since January on an agreement, but the townships have not made any formal response. An attorney representing the township trustees is currently reviewing the proposed offer from Iberdrola and was expected to have a counter-proposal ready by this week, but that was delayed for at least another week.
Litchfield complained, “We’ve done everything we can to get a road agreement signed, and we’re not there yet. I don’t think the county commissioners should punish us for not having a road agreement in place.”
After some more give and take, Commission Chairman Gary Adams cut off the bickering. “I don’t want to be rude, but we’ve discussed this thing too much, and I think we’re here to make a decision today… We’ve discussed this several times. The remark from our engineer was that he thought he could work out a road agreement.”
Commissioner Clair Dudgeon read portions of the certification for the Blue Creek Wind Farm that was issued Monday by the Ohio Power Siting Board, noting that Iberdrola was required to comply with the wishes of the County Engineer in putting roadways back into the same or better condition than their pre-construction state.
Merkle also pointed out that one major consideration has been whether participation in the PILOT program would hurt the bottom line of the county’s school districts.
“With 232, the school’s state foundation funding will not be affected, however if we would go outside of SB 232 then the valuations of the project would become part of the school district values for taxation purposes. That’s an important factor to help the schools out wherever we can to keep them whole as far as their taxes go in their various districts,” Merkle expressed.
Once the vote was taken, the meeting ended quickly and the few observers milled about to talk about what would happen next. Litchfield said that county residents will soon begin to see a lot of trucks and some construction trailers being set up.
“This fall we’ll be working on roads and foundations. We should put in about 40 or 50 foundations this fall, quit for the winter, then wind turbines will show up next summer.”
The Blue Creek Wind Farm will consist of up to 169 2.0 megawatt wind turbines spread out over Benton, Blue Creek, and Latty townships in Paulding County and Tully, Union, and Hoaglin townships in Van Wert County. Up to 121 of the turbines would be in Van Wert County.
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