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NEW RIEGEL, Ohio – We are led to believe that the fictional Madge and Gladys types could be sitting at the regionally-famous local café here, discussing Seneca County politics.
They fawn all over two county commissioners who are supporting the wind turbine project that would spread more than 80 towers across the farmland to the east, with a potentially devastating impact on bats, bald eagles, migratory birds, and the rural landscape. The duo chatter on about the wind business bringing “millions in new revenue to our county” and being a boon to schools, roads, and construction jobs.
Then the sludge barrel is opened, and the spin machine is set to turbo. Commissioner Mike Kerschner, a Republican who opposes the current arrangement with wind energy companies, then gets blasted by the pair of apron-wearing, county fair pie-baking mavens. “I guess Kerschner is against good jobs, better schools, and lower taxes,” they conclude in the radio spot. Giggles follow.
This is clean energy playing dirty.
I don’t know Mike Kerschner, but I’ll assume he likes good jobs, better schools, lower taxes, puppies, rainbows, and occasionally helping an elderly woman cross the street. His mortal sin is pulling back the curtain on a big wind project and asking just what the Wizard of Oz is doing back there.
The radio ads, which saturated the air waves in recent weeks, are the product of a Columbus-based entity with the seemingly innocuous name Economic Prosperity Project. Follow the dusty, purposely circuitous trail further, and you’ll find a Florida-based outfit named Strategic Image Management was paid $20,600 to concoct the radio ads. On its website, one Strategic Image Management employee brags about successful efforts “where TEA Party candidates were used to syphon Republican votes in swing districts to help Democrats retain or flip seats.”
Economic Prosperity Project keeps its financiers confidential.
The firm sPower is the Salt Lake City-based entity behind the Seneca Wind project.
Dan Williamson, senior vice president of Paul Werth Associates – a public relations firm for sPower – said sPower in no way funded the radio campaign, adding they want nothing to do with such an attack on Mr. Kerschner.
“While the commissioner has his position, we respect it,” Mr. Williamson said. “He is a fine public servant and not only would we not run an ad like that, we do not support an ad like that, and we denounce it.”
The effort is even swampier when you consider the potential damage that 80-some giant turbines could inflict on bald eagles, migratory birds, and bats. Wind energy companies hire their own experts, conduct their own studies and carefully carve out their own conclusions.
Mark Shieldcastle, who is generally considered the preeminent expert on the birds of this area and the myriad migratory species that use the flyways through this region, leaves little gray area in his assessment of the wind-funded impact studies.
“The data that has been gathered is junk,” said Shieldcastle, who throughout his 30-plus years as a wildlife biologist has focused his work on avian research. “This is the same ballgame that is going on with every wind farm project – the data is trash. There is nothing to support their claims of little impact. They are not answering the questions they are supposed to answer, and basically they are getting away with everything they can.”
The Seneca Wind project also takes the birds vs. blades debate to a new height, since some of the turbines proposed could reach more than 650 feet at the apex of the blade tip, about 250 feet taller than the turbines west of Bowling Green.
“By going that high, they’ve just added another layer of birds that are now at risk,” Shieldcastle said.
He is not a lone voice in the wilderness with his concerns about where wind turbines are placed.
Bats gain little attention since they do their work under the cover of darkness, devouring billions of insects and saving the agricultural industry loads of money in pest control. But experts fear they could be the most frequent victims of long blades slicing through the night air. The Tennessee Wildlife Federation reported that in just two months, the turbines at the Backbone Mountain wind farm chopped up some 2,000 bats.
The American Bird Conservancy contends that wind turbine blades kill “hundreds of thousands of birds and bats” every year. The ABC says that with their fragile bodies, bats are also victims of the tremendous pressures that are produced as the huge blades move through the air, a phenomenon referred to as barotrauma. The organization said it expects “great losses” when wind turbines are located “in or near major migratory routes, stopover sites, or key breeding or foraging areas” and “such high-risk areas should be avoided at all costs.”
And then there is the human impact. Some Seneca County farmers signed wind turbine leases years ago when they were sold by John Deere. That paper changed hands a few times before landing in sPower’s portfolio, and the prospect of one farmer’s 650-foot tall wind turbine casting its huge King Kong erector set shadow over a neighbor’s rural estate has created a schism of tension and resentment across the wind project’s 25,000-acre footprint in Scipio, Venice, Reed, Bloom and Eden townships.
“This is way bigger than the courthouse issue,” said Chris Aichholz, a rural homeowner who is active in the grassroots group Seneca Anti-Wind Union. He referred to the lengthy and contentious debate that accompanied the county demolishing its historic 1884 building and replacing it with something from the brick-and-mundane era.
“This wind project will change Seneca County to look like Seneca County on mars,” said Jim Feasel, a retired builder who owns an 800-acre farm in the county but turned down significant financial overtures to put wind turbines on his property. “I just couldn’t do that to my neighbors.”
Aichholz, who moved to a home on an 18-acre plot in Bloom Township seeking the serenity of the countryside, said the Seneca Wind project will destroy that and more.
“My wife and I bought this place because it was the most peaceful, beautiful thing we’d ever seen,” he said. Now, he fears the whir of the blades will drown out the crickets, toads, and the rest of the soft symphony of night sounds nature produces. The panoramic views of the agricultural landscape will be lost, as well.
“It all comes down to the siting of the turbines,” he said. “They are too damn close to too many houses.”
The group opposing the wind project contends that, along with the destructive impact on birds and other wildlife, the monetary incentives that sPower will receive are too high a price to pay for what the county landowners will lose in quality of life. They quote investment guru Warren Buffett, who said: “We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”
Shieldcastle, the research director for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in nearby Oak Harbor, who said his organization has not been contacted by the wind companies to consult on potential bird and bat impact, said the torches and pitchforks are appropriate when citizens raise questions about wind farms.
“I’m glad to see people are standing up for themselves because it is becoming more and more obvious that these companies are trying to bully and intimidate anyone who opposes them or even asks questions,” he said.
Meanwhile, back at the New Riegel Café, Madge and Gladys are back to talking about their grandkids.
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