Turbine plans in area spark disputes among neighbors
Credit: By TOM HENRY, BLADE STAFF WRITER, www.toledoblade.com 17 January 2011 ~~
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Wind power now is coming under closer scrutiny, including in rural areas within an hour’s drive of Toledo.
“We’ve got brother fighting sister, we’ve got father fighting son,” according to former Lenawee County Planning Commission Vice President Kevon Martis, who claims his opposition to plans for erecting 200 or more turbines in that county kept him from being reappointed to the panel. He said the aesthetics decline as the landscape becomes more cluttered with turbines. He equated negotiations over land rights to “nothing more than Wild West speculation.”
“We consider this rural vandalism to some degree,” Mr. Martis said of the changing vistas.
The 200-some turbines eyed for southeastern Lenawee County would collectively generate roughly 400 megawatts of power. That’s less than half of the 905 megawatts of electricity produced by FirstEnergy Corp.’s Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Oak Harbor, but could make that area one of the region’s first large-scale wind farms.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are now more than 35 states with commercial-scale wind turbines. Texas has by far the most.
The Lenawee County turbines are to be spread across vast farmland near the Michigan-Ohio state line in Riga, Ogden, Palmyra, and Fairfield townships.
Three developers – Juwi Wind LLC, Great Lakes Wind LLC, and Orisol Energy US Inc. – are making separate plans to put up machines, though residents in those townships say there won’t be much point in making a distinction among the projects if all of those turbines go up in the same general geographical area.
According to the Ohio Power Siting Board, there are at least five active projects under way in northwest Ohio.
The largest is the Blue Creek Wind Farm Project being developed by Heartland Wind, LLC. It calls for 175 turbines to be installed across Paulding and Van Wert counties, collectively generating 350 megawatts of power. As many as 133 more turbines would be installed in Paulding County for the Timber Road Wind Farm and Timber Road Wind Farm II projects, collectively generating another 199 megawatts.
Hardin County has at least two projects under way, according to the siting board. One proposed by Hardin Wind Energy LLC calls for 200 turbines that will collectively generate 300 megawatts of electricity. Another, proposed by Juwi, calls for 19 to 27 turbines that will collectively produce 50 megawatts.
Many under consideration in Lenawee County have drawn the attention of several Ohio residents who live near the state line, such as Christopher Wholehan of Sylvania Township.
Mr. Wholehan urged Sylvania Township trustees earlier this month to take a harder look at what might happen to property values and, ultimately, the township’s tax revenue if newly built subdivisions between Sylvania-Metamora Road and the border are “staring at 500-foot-tall turbines in their back yards.”
Many of the turbines eyed for western Ohio could be ready this year. Many of those in Lenawee County will likely be phased in between 2012 and 2014.
Big numbers are tossed around with each project.
The Blue Creek project proposed for Van Wert and Paulding counties is expected to bring $1.1 million in annual lease payments, $2.7 million in annual tax revenue, and more than 300 temporary construction jobs to that area, according to Brad Lystra, the national wind association’s manager of state campaigns.
About 15 to 20 jobs would be permanent, he said.
During its infancy, the wind industry’s greatest opposition came from wildlife lovers.
Audubon and Bat Conservation International have for years lobbied for better siting and design of turbines.
“The jury is still way out on how effective this industry is,” according to Kimberly Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, the region’s largest birding group.
The group has been circulating petitions calling for Ohio residents to support a ban on wind turbines within three miles of the Lake Erie coastline, citing the critical habitat it provides for any avian creature that migrates, from monarch butterflies to songbirds to raptors.
“We’re not saying no,” Ms. Kaufman said. “We’re saying not yet.”
Western Lake Erie lies in the heart of major bird flyways and has one of the greatest concentrations of bald eagles in the Lower 48.
But that, to the dismay of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, wasn’t enough to stop Oregon City Schools from following through last month with plans to install six midsized turbines. The district is putting two each at Clay High School, Eisenhower Middle School, and Coy Elementary schools, part of a $7.3 million, two-phase project to increase educational research and supply electricity. Mark Shieldcastle, a retired Ohio Department of Natural Resources biologist and birding expert who oversees the group’s research efforts, said he believes people are getting “a slanted view by people who want to sell them something.”
In Lenawee County, the concerns are more about property values.
Studies have been published by both sides of the issue, some warning of double-digit declines and some claiming no impact or even a slight improvement.
Both sides acknowledge there is reason to question each other’s studies, especially with home prices having crashed nationally and the Great Lakes region’s economy being one of the worst nationally.
Other issues have emerged, including a study that suggests low-frequency noise and vibrations from turbines can keep people awake or prevent them from achieving the kind of deep sleep they need. It is being touted as more evidence of siting concerns by Lenawee County activists, such as Greg Stein and Josh Van Camp.
The study was done by Nina Pierpoint, a graduate of Yale and Princeton universities who was awarded her medical degree in 1991 from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. It was presented to the New York State Legislature Energy Committee on March 7, 2006.
Mr. Van Camp said the noise “doesn’t have to be incredibly loud because it’s so incredibly quiet out here at night.”
Those two, along with Mr. Martis, are questioning what a massive array of spinning turbine blades would mean to crop dusters, rescue helicopters, and radar if not properly sited.
According to a 2009 blog entry by meteorologist Chad Evans of WLFI-TV in West Lafayette, Ind., wind farms show up on that station’s Doppler radar.
Wind power also has its supporters.
Some feel its growth has been buoyed largely by new laws that require Michigan, Ohio, and many other states to boost their percentages of electricity generated by clean sources.
Many are on the order of 20 percent by 2020. Ohio requires only 12.5 percent to come from renewable sources by 2025, although it has encouraged nuclear, coal, and other traditional forms of power generation to come up with more advanced techniques so that as much as 25 percent of the state’s electricity could come from nonconventional means.
The Strickland administration proudly declared on Jan. 7 that former Gov. Ted Strickland’s final act as governor was to put Cleveland into a better position for building the Great Lakes region’s first offshore wind farm.
Mr. Strickland committed the state of Ohio to a contract for the project with Lake Erie Energy Development Co. and Freshwater Wind I, LLC, giving them the exclusive right to pursue a submerged lands lease.
“This agreement advances the project to build the first freshwater offshore wind farm in the world and emphasizes Cleveland’s role as an international hub of renewable energy,” Mr. Strickland said.
So why the skepticism? Denise Bode, the Washington-based American Wind Energy Association’s chief executive officer, told The Blade in a telephone interview last week it “does not surprise me at all that people are asking questions” about wind power now in the Toledo area because it’s a relatively new phenomenon here.
“Ohio’s kind of been behind the curve,” she said. “People are less aware of wind in Ohio because you haven’t developed it much.”
She said she believes most Americans still firmly support the wind industry despite all of the “myths being perpetuated” by skeptics.
Peter Endres, Juwi’s director of project development, said he believes Lenawee County has generally shown “pretty strong support” for the projects there.
“What the support will boil down to is responsible siting, which our company is committed to do,” Mr. Endes said.
Peter Kelley, American Wind Energy Association vice president of public affairs, said greater scrutiny comes with being part of an industry that’s coming of age. “When you’re operating on that scale, you’re going to have critics,” he said.
The association believes the support for wind energy is so strong that the naysayers are being displaced by supporters.
“It’s going to be an exciting period for America’s energy producers,” Mr. Kelley said.
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