A few weeks ago, a group of business leaders and educators came to us to express their support for wind energy in Van Wert County. They extolled the financial benefits to the schools, businesses, and government offices that the current wind farm has brought and that subsequent wind projects would bring. We greatly appreciated that they made time in their schedules to meet with us and express their concerns.
Over the past few years, we have also heard from citizens very much against new wind energy development. It is true that the schools, government offices, and some landowners and local businesses stand to gain substantially in increased revenues from future wind projects. But that is only part of the picture we have to consider.
Many people in the rural areas where these farms will be placed believe their property values will be greatly diminished should their homes be suddenly located in a semi-industrial area. Many also believe that electricity rates will rise substantially – since the current power grid needs maintained alongside the wind farms for when the wind doesn’t blow, the maintenance costs could outweigh the benefit of free fuel from the wind.
Then there are these simple arguments “I built a home for $250,000 in the country to enjoy the stillness and scenery and the entire value of that is taken away if I’m suddenly in the middle of a wind farm.” Or: “My family has lived here for generations and now the rural life we have grown to love is entirely destroyed.” No one who lives or has grown up in a rural area would dismiss these concerns as insignificant or trifling.
It has been stated that we are the only group of county commissioners who aren’t fully on board with supporting wind energy regardless of these concerns and that is not true. There has been conflict in Champaign, Seneca, Hardin, and Logan counties regarding wind farms and some, including our neighbors in Auglaize and Mercer counties, made it impossible for the initial wind farm development by never establishing and Alternative Energy Zone (AEZ) – a plain invitation to go elsewhere.
We rescinded the AEZ in Van Wert County after several conferences with the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), constituents and consultants because it took away our ability to negotiate with wind companies for a better deal for the county. When the current wind farm was established, for example, the price of scrap metal was so high that the OPSB only required a decommissioning bond per windmill of $5,000. We now couldn’t take down a quarter of the current windmills for that if they stopped operating and with an AEZ, we would have had no control over any future decommissioning bonds. That is just one of many examples of where we stood to lose by not rescinding.
The elimination of the AEZ was three years ago. Since then, we have not been approached by any wind company with a proposal for a new project. In fact, the current hold-up for any new wind farms are the setback requirements established at the state level. We have been consistently in contact with our state representatives, Senator Rob McColley and Congressman Craig Riedel. They are currently working on new legislation to change setbacks to something more manageable for wind development in Senate Bill 238.
In this legislation, they are also creating mechanisms for there to be direct votes or referendums in the areas where the wind turbines will be located. Because this will give both sides an opportunity to fully present their case, we fully support the efforts of McColley and Riedel to give citizens a voice in this matter.
In the recent meeting referenced at the start of this column, it was stated that it is our job to act on this matter regardless of what our constituents think and that democracy should no longer be part of the decision considering the money involved. We believe the opposite is true. We believe we were elected to consider every side of the argument and try to find the best outcome for our county. That is what we have done and will continue to do with the wind issue and every other county issue.
–Van Wert County Commissioners Stan Owens, Thad Lichtensteiger, and Todd Wolfrum
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