SHELBY – Wind turbines could start sprouting up in rural north central Ohio by spring, bringing jobs and millions of dollars in investment.
The state board that certifies construction plans for energy facilities approved an agreement that authorizes a 91-turbine wind farm along the Crawford and Richland county line.
The agreement approved Monday by the Ohio Power Siting Board allows Black Fork Wind Energy, a subsidiary of Oregon-based alternative energy company Element Power, to move forward with the project.
The board said the company plans to begin construction in March and could be operating by December.
The project is expected to create 70 to 95 construction jobs and 10 permanent, high-skill positions. The company estimates $51 million to $69 million will be spent in the region on equipment, materials, labor and associated costs.
Construction is expected to cost $290 million to $400 million, depending on the wind turbines selected. The board said the project will have a broad economic impact, creating more than 55 permanent, indirect jobs.
Black Fork filed an application with the state in March to create the wind farm on 14,800 acres of private land leased from 150 landowners.
The project area encompasses 24,200 acres in Auburn, Jackson, Jefferson and Vernon townships in Crawford County, and Plymouth, Sandusky and Sharon townships in Richland County.
The proposal has drawn criticism from some local residents and elected officials. Opponents have voiced concerns about noise and aesthetic issues, plus concerns about potential impacts to the environment and public health.
County and township governments passed resolutions last summer objecting to being stuck with the bill for road damages caused by the construction project.
“There will be a lot of trucks bringing in heavy equipment on those county roads to the project area,” said Crawford County Commissioner Mo Ressallat. “It has always been our position that they fix the roads to withstand the heavy equipment before the project, then repair them at the end to be in good condition.”
He said as long as the road issue is worked out, the wind farm could help the local economy.
“There will be some tax dollars from this wind farm, which will be very helpful to the county,” Ressallat said.
Richland County Commissioner Ed Olson said state approval of the project should be contingent on the company entering into an agreement about road repairs.
Olson said the county has not received a copy of the agreement approved by the siting board and could not comment on it.
He said the project could have an economic benefit for the county, particularly if Black Fork hires locally.
“You have to weigh the ongoing impact on the economy relative to any disruption to the lives of neighbors,” he said. “If you live near these turbines, you may not think they’re such a good idea.”
The agreement approved by the state this week was contingent on a number of conditions, including a requirement that Black Fork enter into road use agreements with county governments before starting construction. It also requires the company to pay for any damage to government-maintained roads and bridges.
Black Fork could not be reached for comment.
Under Ohio’s alternative energy portfolio standard, 25 percent of electricity sold in Ohio must be generated from alternative energy sources by 2025. At least half of this energy must come from renewable energy sources, including wind, and one half of the renewable energy facilities must be located in Ohio.
With the addition of the Black fork project, the state has certified nine wind farms across Ohio, totaling 662 turbines and 1,251 megawatts of generating capacity.
The siting board outlined the Black Fork project and addressed concerns raised by the community in its report.
Black Fork designed the project to accommodate three possible turbine models, depending on availability and cost at the time of ordering. The structures all would consist of three-bladed turbines mounted on top of tubular steel towers.
The height of the turbines would range from 426 feet to 494 feet depending on the models chosen. All models include safety features to monitor and control blade speeds, ice accumulation and other concerns.
Lines would be run underground to transfer the electricity generated to an American Electric Power substation in Howard. Officials say the wind farm will be capable of generating 200 megawatts of electricity, enough to power tens of thousands of homes.
Quality of life issues
Black Fork has agreed to minimum property line setbacks of 563 feet and residence setbacks of 1,250 feet from its facilities, which exceeds statutory requirements. The board said 232 residential structures are within 1,000 feet of proposed facilities.
Black Fork estimates that one or more wind turbines would be visible from most vantage points in the project area. The area – which is 80 percent farmland – is largely open, making vegetative screen impractical. Because of the height of the turbines, the company is required to place flashing red lights on top of several of them for aviation safety.
Black Fork sampled ambient noise in the project area and said most turbine models would generate a similar level of noise.
The siting board said there is not enough evidence to suggest the turbines will have a significant impact on property values.
The board said the project will have minimal to no impact on drinking water, watersheds, wildlife and the environment. The wind turbines may result in the loss of habitat for some wildlife and cause bird and bat fatalities.
Four acres of forested areas will be removed as part of construction. The board said the turbines, in almost all cases, will not interfere with agriculture land uses.
The wind turbines considered for the project have a life expectancy of 20 to 25 years, according to the board, and alternative energy companies often upgrade facilities as they age.
If turbines stop being used because of age or other circumstances, the board said Black Fork will be required to remove the towers and restore properties to their original condition.
The company will be responsible for making sure funds are available for decommissioning.
Reporter Kim Gasuras and the Associated Press contributed to this story.
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