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Wind-energy capacity swells in Ohio amid uncertainty

Ohio nearly quadrupled its ability to generate power from wind in 2012, part of a record year for the U.S. wind industry, but a review of state renewable-energy requirements places future growth in doubt.

The growth in Ohio was almost all from one project, the 305-megawatt Blue Creek Wind Farm in Paulding and Van Wert counties, which went online about a year ago. It brings the state’s total to 428 megawatts.

The figures are part of a report issued yesterday by the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group. Ohio’s ability to produce energy from wind now ranks 26th out of the 40 states that have at least one utility-scale project. The report does not include smaller-scale projects serving homes and businesses.

But all is not well for the industry in Ohio. The Ohio General Assembly is considering changes to a 2008 energy law that requires utilities to purchase a certain quantity of energy generated from renewable sources. Also, some neighbors of the Blue Creek project continue to have concerns about noise and other environmental factors.

If Ohio’s requirements are watered-down, the economy will suffer, said Dayna Baird, an Ohio-based lobbyist for the wind group.

“The people (who will be hurt) most are the ones who have spent a couple of million dollars to go through the Ohio Power Siting Board process expecting those (renewable-energy) standards to be there,” she said.

Baird is referring to the dozen or so projects that have been approved by the state panel but not yet built, or those that are in the process of applying for approval.The Ohio Senate’s Public Utilities Committee is holding hearings about the 2008 law. So far, no specific changes have been proposed.

Several other states also are considering modifying their renewable-energy requirements. If there is a nationwide move away from the rules, it likely will hit Ohio’s wind-energy manufacturers, Baird said. The state ranks 12th in the country in jobs related to the industry, with more than 2,000, the trade group said.

Wind power has a legion of critics who say it is an unreliable power source generated by visually jarring machines. A turbine only works when the wind is blowing, which often does not correspond to the times of day when the electricity system needs the most power.

The development of Blue Creek showed the clash that often occurs when such a project is proposed. Economic-development leaders seeing the potential for income and neighbors often differ on whether they want to see turbines outside their windows.

Milo Schaffner, 65, a farmer and Hoaglin township trustee in his community outside of Van Wert, was among those who opposed the project. Now that the turbines are in place right next to his property, the results have been as bad as he feared, he said.

“When you go to these hearings, they tell you these turbines don’t make noise,” he said. “It’s not true.”

He describes the sound as a “ whoosh, whoosh.” At times, he said, he can feel air pressure that he thinks is the result of the turbines, a sensation that is “like a thumping on your chest.”

Wind-power advocates say the environmental concerns are overblown, and they point to a series of academic studies.

Across the country, wind-power installations’ power-generation capacity grew by 13,131 megawatts last year, the highest ever, according to the wind-power association. More wind capacity was installed than any other single power source, including coal, gas and solar. A megawatt is enough power to provide for the needs of roughly 1,000 houses.

“We’re doing what Americans overwhelmingly say they want: making more clean, renewable energy, and creating good jobs in U.S. factories,” Rob Gramlich, interim CEO of the wind group, said in a statement.

Texas led the country in new installations, and it has, by far, the most installed capacity, with 1,826 megawatts that went online last year for a statewide total of 12,214 megawatts. The latter number is nearly 30 times the capacity in place in Ohio.