The long-range forecast for big wind farms in Ohio is cloudy at best.
About a dozen wind farm projects that have been certified by the state are essentially on hold now and may never get off the ground after Ohio put in a two-year delay on its renewable energy targets last summer.
Backers of wind energy aren’t ready to say the projects are dead, but it’s also clear that the delay of the state mandates for alternative energy sources and a new law that limits where the turbines can go up have put plans for large-scale wind farms in jeopardy.
What happens down the road depends a great deal on a legislative panel reviewing Ohio’s renewable energy law.
The panel was created last year to review the impacts of Ohio’s clean-energy standard put in place by former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. But opponents argued the standards are driving up electricity costs by imposing costly government mandates on utility companies and now several Republican lawmakers want to kill the green-energy goals altogether.
Without those incentives, there’s little reason for power companies to buy electricity from wind farms.
But even if the standards remain in some form, it will be difficult for developers of large-scale wind farms that are not yet certified to overcome the law passed last year that requires wind turbine blades to be at least a quarter-mile from the nearest property line.
“They are in a pretty bad hurt,” said Dayna Baird Payne, a lobbyist in Columbus who represents the American Wind Energy Association.
Supporters of the setback rule for the turbines say it protects homeowners who don’t want the towers near their property.
One wind farm still in just the planning stages was designed to have 75 turbines, but the new regulations would allow only two on the same site in northwestern Ohio because of nearby property lines, she said.
“That’s truly devastating,” she said.
Iberdrola Renewables LLC, which was behind a wind farm that opened in northwestern Ohio in 2011, has a few other projects under development in the state that the company now is “looking at in a different light,” said spokesman Paul Copleman.
While the Portland, Oregon-based company is still trying to make those Ohio projects work, the new rules pose pretty significant challenges, he said.
Just under 30 states have renewable energy standards. West Virginia’s governor signed a bill this month that eliminates its standards while groups opposing the idea are trying to convince other states to remove their energy standards.
The legislative changes in Ohio don’t mean the demand for wind energy has entirely vanished within the state.
A public-private partnership proposing a wind farm on Lake Erie near Cleveland is still moving forward and seeking investors. Whether or not the state offers incentives should not impact their plan, said Eric Ritter, a spokesman Lake Erie Energy Development Corp.
“These policies are definitely not good for clean energy, but I wouldn’t say it’s a death blow at all,” he said.
One Energy, a Findlay company that works on wind energy projects for big electricity users, announced in January that five turbines will be built this year to supply power to factories owned by Whirlpool Corp. and Ball Corp. in Findlay. Using wind energy will allow both companies to lock in their energy rates for the next 20 years.
Another half-dozen projects that are small enough not to be impacted by the new state legislation are in the works, said Jereme Kent, general manager of One Energy.
“What I’m hoping is projects like this and seeing big businesses using wind will help this conversation along,” he said.
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