Rural northwest Ohio stands to be the big winner if state legislators ease off their setback restrictions for giant wind turbines and allow counties to determine their own fate, according to three speakers from Van Wert and Putnam counties who participated in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
Susan Munroe, Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer, said the 152-turbine Blue Creek Wind Farm has made that county “the wind farm capital of Ohio.”
That $600 million project, which includes a few turbines in adjacent Paulding County, was Ohio’s largest single investment when it was erected in 2011. But if setback rules that took effect in 2014 had been around then, only a dozen of those turbines would have been built.
The Blue Creek Wind Farm provides 25 percent of Ohio State University’s electricity needs for its main campus, according to OSU’s Office of Energy and Environment.
That saves OSU millions of dollars, Ms. Munroe said.
The Blue Creek Wind Farm developer, Iberdrola Renewables, is planning to invest $200 million more in Van Wert County to erect 50 more wind turbines for a project called the Dog Creek Wind Farm. It likewise has plans for a $300 million project in Putnam County on hold.
Dan Litchfield, Iberdrola senior business developer, said neither can happen unless the Ohio General Assembly allows counties to revert to previous setback requirements, something which state Rep. Tim Brown (R., Bowling Green) and state Rep. Tony Burkley (R., Payne) have proposed to do through legislation they have co-sponsored called House Bill 190.
The 2014 law requires at least a 1,300-foot setback from the property line, nearly three times the 540-foot requirement under the previous law. The American Wind Energy Association and other advocates of the wind industry have said the new law is a deal-breaker for many potential projects in Ohio involving wind energy, one of the nation’s fastest growing forms of energy production.
Jeff Snyder, superintendent of the Lincolnview School District in eastern Van Wert County, said the additional $400,000 in annual tax revenue from the Blue Creek Wind Farm has allowed his district to buy computers and tablets for nearly all students and better prepare them for the new economy with stronger science, technology, engineering, and math programs.
The district is now looking at modernizing its buildings and lowering the tax burden on landowners.
“As a district, it is a game-changer for us and our students,” Mr. Snyder said.
John Love, Putnam County commissioner, said his county has been “waiting on the sidelines,” hoping for counties to gain the right to exempt themselves from the more restrictive law.
“Probably a month doesn’t go by without a developer asking me the status of this,” Mr. Love said. “I love the idea of local control.”
House Bill 190 also would extend the fixed tax rate of $9,000 a megawatt, created in 2010, for another five years. The wind industry supports that as an alternative to paying personal property taxes.
With Amazon’s recent announcement of plans to build a $1.1 billion facility in central Ohio, the Buckeye State has emerged as a potential hot spot for energy-intensive data centers that want to be powered by renewable energy, Terrence O’Donnell, an attorney at Dickinson Wright who specializes in renewables, said.
Rural Van Wert County will have the capacity to court a major manufacturer or data center if it is allowed to ease up on the setback requirements, Ms. Munroe said.
Doing so “gives Van Wert County a competitive edge and trigger as we seek to lure these companies,” she said.
Though separate issues, the tougher setback rules were passed by the Ohio General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in tandem with Ohio’s two-year freeze on renewable energy mandates for utilities. Ohio became the nation’s first state to back off rules that had required utilities to invest in renewable power.