Even after key court ruling, neighbors at odds over skyscraper-size turbines changing rural landscape
As the wind rattled the metal siding of his outbuilding, Tony Broshes nodded toward his Champaign County farm field and explained why he will allow a skyscraper-sized turbine to be built there. In his mind, the wind is just another crop.
And because it is his property, he figures he ought to be able to do with it what he wants. And because the Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled against a group of protesting landowners, clearing the way for a 54-turbine wind farm, Broshes would just as soon have his opponents pipe down about it, he said.
“We’re farmers, and we’re going to harvest the wind. That’s how we see it,” said Broshes, who operates Stan-Mar-Dale Holstein farm on Kennard Road northeast of Urbana and about 50 miles west of Columbus.
He is tired of the debate that’s raged for five years, and of the endless discussions and legal battles that have accompanied it. No one wanted to talk about his farm in 2008 when the leftovers from Hurricane Ike flattened his corn crop, he said, and no one cared about him in 2009 when a storm sheared the barn roof and put his herd at risk.
He said those who oppose the turbines – which, once constructed, should produce enough energy to power about 43,000 homes – are mostly people who live in the country but don’t understand agricultural life.
Mark Crowder, another farmer who will have a turbine on his land, put it less delicately: “If you move to the country, then you better want to look at it, hear it or smell it.”
Terry Rittenhouse sees the wind farm differently. To him, it’s a dream-crusher. It means the end of a three-decade run on the acre and a third that he and his family transformed from nothing more than an abandoned house and a weed lot into a marquee stop on the local tour of homes.
He will have at least eight turbines dotting three sides near his property. The closest one will be about 2,200 feet from his house. He already has a for-sale sign in his front lawn.
Born and raised in Champaign County, he chose the spot for his family’s homestead with care. “When I drove into this valley 30 years ago, I said, ‘Why, this is as close to paradise as God’s got,’ ” he said.
Rittenhouse, who owns a carpet-cleaning business and rents out apartments, shares others’ concerns that the turbines, which could be as tall as 492 feet to the tip of the blade, won’t be built far enough from homes and property lines. Moreover, he questions the developer’s intentions.
He said the government’s tax breaks and subsidies that come with green-energy projects make the Buckeye Wind Project little more than a money grab that holds little for the community’s greater good.
“We aren’t like the wind company,” Rittenhouse said. “We have no lobbyists, and we have no project manager. We have only the good, hard-working people of Champaign County, and what we’ve come to find out is that no one is looking out for us.”
Jason Dagger, project manager for EverPower Wind Holdings, said the company has been upfront about the Champaign County project’s benefits beyond the obvious one: clean, inexpensive, efficient energy for the power grid. Dagger said the project probably also will generate at least $1 million annually in local taxes, most of that for local schools; $1 million in lease payments to the landowners who host the turbines; and a $150 million initial investment in the project, with much of the work performed by Ohio contractors and local workers.
Dagger said construction could start this year, and the turbines could be producing power in 2014.
Large-scale wind-energy projects must be approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board. A 55-turbine project in Paulding County was the first to be completed. The 152 turbines are turning at the largest project to date, Blue Creek Wind Farm straddling Paulding and Van Wert counties, but it won’t be fully online for about a month. Nine more projects across the state, totaling more than 400 turbines, have been approved.
Green-energy advocates called the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling a landmark case. “There are a lot of misconceptions about wind energy, and this should help to resolve them,” said William Spratley, executive director of Green Energy Ohio.
Hurdles remain for the Champaign County developer, however. The county commissioners have not yet approved an “alternative-energy zone” designation that would significantly reduce each turbine’s tax rate. And EverPower must reach agreements concerning road repair after the massive construction undertaking, and it must resolve a bat issue with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Dan Litchfield is business developer for Blue Creek’s developer, Iberdrola Renewables. He said he recognizes that all eyes are on Van Wert County. “That will be good for Ohio, because people will like what they see,” he said.
The wind farm has become something of a tourist attraction. The local convention and visitors bureau has printed a brochure, and people often stop to inquire. On a clear day, nearly all the turbines can be seen from a rest stop on westbound Rt. 30 near the Indiana line. A kiosk has been installed there to explain them.
Plenty of strangers with cameras have even found their way to a heretofore-unnoticed rural corner along John Yoh Road northeast of Van Wert. Two turbines tower over the farmhouse that Becky Beech rents there, and a cluster of six rises from the field across the road from her backyard. From her front lawn, she can see well more than 50 of the machines. And she isn’t happy about it.
The swoosh of the air pushed by the blades has replaced the calls of the birds who used to rest in her tree line, she said. Occasionally, the flickering shadows cast by the spinning blades reach her daughter’s bedroom, so they must pull the shades. The synchronized red lights on the turbines blink at her all night and, she said, irrevocably alter the look and feel of the countryside.
“It’s like we’re out here trying to call the mother ship,” Beech said. She doesn’t want to move, and that would only pass the problem along to someone else anyway, she said.
Beech said the turbines must be seen in person for their size to be fully understood. She worries about what would happen if one should topple.
Setbacks from residences and property lines were the main issue in the Ohio Supreme Court case.
In Van Wert County, the turbines are an average of 1,600 feet from any home. In Champaign County, one turbine will be between 900 and 1,000 feet from a home, but the average setback for the rest of the project will be more than 1,600 feet, Dagger said. The setbacks from neighboring property lines, however, can be much closer.
Bill Dowler, a township trustee in Van Wert County, owns about 350 acres and farms nearly 3,000. He has three turbines on his land and will be paid annually about $7,500 plus a share of Iberdrola’s revenue for each one. He will farm around 14 of them, and turbines surround the property where he built a brick house in 1985.
He said Iberdrola has done all it promised, and he said he sees no significant difference in life among the turbines except that the local schools, county and townships are sharing $2.7 million each year in additional tax revenue.
“Life is full of disappointment and change, and you have to roll with the punches,” Dowler said. “Everyone just has to adjust.”
Rittenhouse, in Champaign County, disagrees. He hopes that one of the lingering hurdles can still stop the 54-turbine project and that he won’t have to sell his home. Regardless, he said, the collateral damage has been done.
“There is an element of hatred among neighbors, an element of wariness among friends,” he said. “This project has changed all of us forever.”