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Champaign County to get over 50 wind turbines

Ohio ranks fourth among all states in number of jobs linked to the wind turbine energy business with 5,000 to 6,000 people employed, a new survey from industry advocate American Wind Energy Association says.

The report comes as a project to build at least 54 wind turbines in Champaign County – the $20 million Buckeye Wind project – is moving ahead after a 4-3 ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court in March.

American Wind Energy Association’s survey said demand for new wind generation created nearly 500 American manufacturing facilities and employed 75,000 overall, including 30,000 in the manufacturing sector. Ohio has 50 companies supplying components, the group said.

The association said wind energy is becoming one of the largest sources of new U.S. electric generation with 35 percent of all new power capacity, behind natural gas.

Turbine designs are getting better, generating 30 percent more electricity than older models. South Dakota and Iowa lead five states that have now passed the 10 percent mark in terms of state electricity generated by wind turbines in 2011, the association said.

Seven states have at least 4,000 wind-industry jobs each – Iowa, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Colorado, California and Michigan.

Association CEO Denise Bode praised federal tax credits for the wind industry, an issue the industry is actively lobbying.

Extending a tax credit awaits a vote in Congress.

“This shows what wind power is capable of: building new projects, powering local economies and creating jobs,” said Bode. Bode said a House bill to extend the existing Production Tax Credit for wind energy has the support of 90 co-sponsors including 20 Republicans.

An extension was introduced in the Senate on March 15.

Everpower Renewables, the company in charge of Buckeye Wind, has said some form of tax abatement is needed for the project to continue.

Jason Dagger, Buckeye Wind spokesman, said the earliest construction could begin is late this year or early next year.

The project is expected to create between 150 and 200 jobs during construction, and about a dozen full-time jobs to maintain the turbines.

County officials are debating road and tax agreements with Everpower Wind Holdings, the company proposing the project. The debate is likely to intensify, as Everpower has proposed a second phase to add an additional 57 turbines.

Officials from the company have said each turbine would power between 600 to 750 homes.

But Julie Johnson, a resident who has opposed the project since the beginning, argued projects like Buckeye Wind are too inefficient to operate without tax credits.

“The wind industry can’t survive without the taxpayer subsidy,” Johnson said.

The U.S. wind industry installed 6,816 megawatts in 2011, 31 percent higher than 2010, for a total of 46,916 megawatts installed in the United States.

That supports the electric needs of up to 12 million U.S. homes, the association said. More than 8,300 megawatts are under construction.

At the moment, Ohio is a very small player in wind energy generation, but the state ranks 18th for potential wind energy.

The National Renewable Energy Lab rated Ohio’s wind potential as being able to provide 95.3 percent of the state’s current electricity needs, according to the association.