URBANA – The Buckeye Wind Project in Champaign County could create more than 1,200 jobs during construction and add more than $100 million to the region’s economy through the use of local labor, according to proponents of the wind farm.
But critics said EverPower’s estimates of new jobs are likely inflated, and the numbers do not take into account items like tax breaks and subsidies that also impact the project’s bottom line.
“Take all of these impact studies with a huge grain of salt,” said David Kreutzer, a research fellow in energy economics and climate change at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
But Jason Dagger, an EverPower developer, pointed to the company’s track record.
“People wonder where these numbers came from, and it’s from experience building projects similar to this,” he said.
The company also operates wind farms in New York and Pennsylvania.
By the numbers
In May, EverPower Wind Holdings Inc. submitted an application to the Ohio Power Siting Board to build the Buckeye II Wind Farm. It would be combined with the Buckeye I Wind Farm, which is in the final stages of the permitting and siting process.
The controversial projects would mean more than 100 turbines in Champaign County in the two phases. EverPower is a subsidiary of Terra Firma, a private equity firm based in England.
The company hired Camiros, a planning and design firm based in Chicago, to assess the economic effects of Buckeye II.
That study estimates Buckeye II alone would directly result in 86 temporary jobs during the construction phase. It estimates it would also create as many as 391 jobs in industries like accountants and fuel suppliers who indirectly contribute to the project’s construction. It also estimated the project would create as many as 121 jobs in the region as household income increases and residents spend more as a result of the project.
Combined with Buckeye I, the two phases of the project could create about 1,300 new full-time jobs during the construction phase, according to Camiros.
The projects would also generate about $950,000 in annual land lease revenue to land owners who permit the turbines on their property.
During construction, the total impact of wages and local spending for Buckeye II could have a total benefit of about $78.6 million during the 12-month construction phase of the project, according to the Camiros study.
Critics contend the project will lead to a much smaller job figure. Once complete, the project is expected to directly produce seven full-time jobs. Roughly 30 additional jobs could be produced from indirect and induced impacts after construction, according to the study.
Critics also said residents should be wary of the study, which does not take into account subsidies and tax breaks needed to get the project up and running.
Those tax breaks use taxpayer money that would be used in other sectors of the economy, making it difficult to determine whether those jobs might be created elsewhere with or without the project, said Kreutzer, from the Heritage Foundation.
“They show the impact of the spending and leave out the impact of generating the revenue so that you have to spend it in the first place,” he said.
The subsidies needed to make the project economically viable makes it more difficult to determine if taxpayers are getting the best value for their dollar, Kreutzer said, particularly because wind power is often more expensive to produce than other forms of energy.
“When it comes down to policy, it almost doesn’t matter whether the numbers are right because the project should pay for itself,” Kreutzer said.
Nearly all industries in the energy business receive some from of subsidy to compete, Dagger said. Arguing the money could be better spent elsewhere is speculative, he added.
“It’s hard to say what else is out there for the economy that would bring the same impact,” Dagger said.
Construction was recently completed on the Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert County. While he wasn’t certain of the total number of jobs created, the project had a noticeable impact on the economy, said Clair Dudgeon, a Van Wert County commissioner.
During the construction phase, businesses ranging from a local quarry to a company renting portable restrooms saw a boost in revenues as the turbines were built. Sales tax revenue in the county increased about 40 percent during construction, and the city of Van Wert also received a boost from their bed and breakfast tax as construction crews filled hotel rooms.
The county will not receive tax payments from the wind farm until 2014. But even after construction was finished, Dudgeon said the county will see benefits from about $1 million in annual payments to land owners.
“In looking over those reports, you can see significant benefits both to Van Wert and the county,” Dudgeon said.
Some Champaign County residents opposed to the project pointed out that although the wind farm may bring new money into the economy, many residents are under the mistaken impression the money will all stay in Champaign County.
The company’s estimates, however, are based on a seven-county area that includes Logan, Union, Madison, Clark, Miami and Shelby counties as well, said Terry Rittenhouse, a resident in Union Twp.
“Many people take that to mean Champaign County,” Rittenhouse said of EverPower’s $55 million investment. “If you take what they really mean by local, it’s the seven-county area.”
When spread over the region, the money will have a smaller impact than suggested in Champaign County, where residents are directly impacted by the wind farm, Rittenhouse said.
In Champaign County, the largest benefits after construction is complete will be from tax revenue the county and other local entities will receive, as well as about $1 million in lease payments to local land owners, Dagger said.
“Those people are going to spend that locally,” Dagger said.
Hard to verify
Lisa Linowes, executive director of the Industrial Wind Action Group, argued two problems with EverPower’s figures are that many of the jobs created will be hard to verify and their study only looks at the positive effects of the project on the local area.
“It assumes that money spent is always beneficial,” she said. “But that is not a safe assumption.”
Linowes and others, including Champaign County Auditor Karen Bailey, have raised concerns that the wind farm could hurt property values in some cases. Officials from EverPower have said that hasn’t been the case at their other wind farms in the U.S.
The Camiros study also included induced effects from the wind farm, which reflect additional spending in the community as household spending increases from revenue the wind farms will bring.
But that is nearly impossible to track or verify, Linowes said.
Others, including local farmer Tony Broshes, believe residents should take a closer look at the economic benefits the turbines could provide. Tax money going to schools could help save more teaching jobs, for example.
Revenue and jobs from the turbines would give the county a boost, he said, and it makes little sense to ignore the benefits.
“It just doesn’t make too much sense to me that someone can turn their nose up at it,” he said.