Wind turbines were again an agenda topic for the Van Wert County Board of Commissioners when BP developer Roger Brown met with the commissioners on Thursday.
Although he admitted that BP’s wind energy division is currently up for sale, Brown said he doesn’t feel that will have any impact on BP’s current Prairie Creek wind farm project proposed for southern Van Wert County. Construction on that project is expected to start by December 31 of this year and be operational by January 1, 2015, both mandatory deadlines for wind projects that seek to qualify for tax benefits under Ohio Senate Bill 232.
Brown didn’t seem overly concerned about the commissioners’ decision made Tuesday to do away with its alternative energy zone, noting that such zones are scheduled to expire at the end of this year anyway, but did seek information on what the county’s decision might mean for his wind farm project.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Thad Lichtensteiger led the discussion for the county, explaining the rationale behind the decision: the commissioners’ wish to have more bargaining power with companies seeking to construct wind farms in the county.
The decision to end the county alternative energy zone was made following a series of meetings with a number of individuals and entities, including Ohio Power Siting Board Director Kim Wissman, the commissioners felt that, with the state siting board having the power to place wind turbines anywhere it deemed appropriate, as long as property owners have signed lease contracts, county officials needed to find a way to have more bargaining power with wind energy companies.
By ending the county’s alternative energy zone, the commissioners now have the flexibility to either continue to use the state’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program that is part of SB 232 or craft their own negotiating stance on a project-by-project basis, if they choose. The county could bargain on a countywide basis, with the commissioners acting as lead negotiators, or open the process up to other stakeholders, including township trustees, who Lichtensteiger said “feel left out of the loop” when it comes to wind farm projects.
Lichtensteiger did say that going completely away from SB 232’s guidelines would be going “completely off the reservation,” as doing so would then open up negotiations to “all the players” – a process he admitted could be, realistically, unworkable.
“That’s a little more wild and woolly … we acknowledge that,” he told Brown. However, Lichtensteiger said he did feel stakeholders such as trustees and school officials should have significant involvement in any future wind farm negotiating process.
Commissioner Stan Owens was adamant in supporting the right of property owners to do anything they want with their land, as long as it is legal, as well as the need for economic development in the county, but also noted the commissioners were working hard to make sure all county residents’ interests are represented in any future wind farm negotiations.
“We do care about everybody and about being responsible and accountable,” Owens explained.
Brown agreed with Lichtensteiger and also discussed the proposed Prairie Creek wind farm project, noting that the 200-megawatt project could be constructed in two phases in order to begin the project under the SB 232 deadline, if still applicable, while also working to obtain other certifications and authorizations that could be required.
Brown also addressed the “shadow flicker” issue, noting that BP is very careful about how it sites wind turbines to meet state requirements that nearby residences experience no more than 30 hours of flicker annually.
Wissman, in her meeting with the commissioners, also noted that residents who have problems related to wind turbines need to contact the Ohio Power Siting Board, which is authorized to come up with solutions to those problems.
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