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Questions linger in turbine case

URBANA – Two specialists visited Urbana University to discuss a wind turbine project in Van Wert County Monday night, but the lecture showed that a similar project in Champaign County is a point of contention among local residents.

Nancy Bowen and Eric Romich, specialists with the Ohio State University Extension, spoke for about an hour about wind energy in Ohio and the Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert County. While Bowen said wind projects will not work everywhere, several residents who attended the lecture raised concerns about the Buckeye Wind Project, which has been proposed in Champaign County.

Among other issues, local residents questioned how far back the turbines should be set from homes, how property rights might be affected and whether the project could affect emergency operations such as CareFlight.

The Buckeye Wind Project, which is being reviewed by the Ohio Supreme Court, would build about 50 wind turbines across several townships in Champaign County. A second phase, which would add an additional 57 turbines, has also been proposed.

Both Bowen and Romich said they were not advocating for a particular project or industry, and were instead hoping to provide an overview of wind energy in Ohio.

“We’re not trying to sell wind development in Champaign County,” Bowen told the audience. “It works in some communities and not in others. But I think it’s working in Van Wert County.”

Bowen’s lecture covered the Blue Creek Wind Farm, which includes about 160 wind turbines across Van Wert and sections of Paulding County. Along with the nearby Timber Road II wind farm in Paulding County, it is one of the first in the state to become operational.

In Van Wert County, Bowen said the project has provided additional revenue for the local economy. She said that county relies heavily on the auto industry. The Blue Creek project added about $1.1 million in annual lease payments and $2.7 in annual tax revenues to the local economy. While wind farms create few permanent jobs, she said those that are created pay fairly well.

“What wind development can do is help diversify a rural economy,” Bowen said.

Romich said the state has created legislation in recent years that has made Ohio’s tax structure more competitive for wind developers as a way to support alternative energy investment.

Typically, noise and other issues are not a concern as long as the turbines are properly cited, Romich said. However, he said those issues should be resolved between local elected officials, residents and the wind developers.

But most of the questions asked focused on the potential negative impacts of the local project. Bowen and Romich were not able to answer several of the questions asked, which focused on detailed sections of each project, including the population density of Van Wert and Champaign counties.

Stephen Jones, president of Urbana University, said residents still have strong feelings on both sides.
“I think we’ve confirmed that it’s a contentious issue,” Jones said.