VAN WERT, Ohio – While it created a fair amount of controversy itself, the $600 million Blue Creek Wind Farm – a collection of some 152 wind turbines across Paulding and Van Wert counties, near the Indiana state line – was Ohio’s largest construction project when most of it was installed in 2011.
The 300-megawatt project, which began construction in September, 2010, went online in early 2012. While its biggest customers are FirstEnergy Solutions and American Municipal Power, 50 of those megawatts are purchased by Ohio State University. OSU has said the clean energy produced by those turbines provides it with roughly 25 percent of the electrical needs for its main campus.
About $2 million a year go to local landowners in the form of lease payments, with another $2.7 million in annual payments to local taxing bodies. That includes another $400,000 annually for the Lincolnview School District in eastern Van Wert County.
The wind farm’s owner, Avangrid Renewables, formerly Iberdrola Renewables, said it is the largest single taxpayer in Van Wert County, where three-quarters of the project is located. It said its annual tax payments to Van Wert County are larger than the county’s next 11 businesses combined.
The Blue Creek Wind Farm has been cited repeatedly over the years as an example of what was possible before today’s highly restrictive setback rules were passed by the Ohio General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in 2014.
Company officials have said the project likely would have been sited in northeast Indiana if Ohio’s current rules were in effect then. Only a dozen of the 152 turbines would have met those siting requirements.
A 20-page report written in 2017 by two Washington-based industry groups, the American Wind Energy Association and the Wind Energy Foundation, asserted Ohio’s losses in potential economic development since the 2014 rules took effect had reached a staggering $4.2 billion.
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. AWEA and other wind industry advocates, including those involved with the Seneca County projects, are trying to get the law repealed.
While the Blue Creek Wind Farm is Ohio’s largest to date, two others that big are in the works in Seneca, Crawford, Huron, and Erie counties.
Much of the anger and fury that has come from wind power’s critics, who voice concerns ranging from bird, bat, and other wildlife impacts, to human health concerns about shadow-flicker and vibrations, wasn’t foreseen when Ohio’s first two commercial-scale wind turbines went up at the Wood County landfill southwest of Bowling Green. Both sides also have conflicting reports on what the large machines do to property values.
Back then, America was much more dependent on foreign oil, a trend that slowly started to reverse itself some about four years later when the oil and gas industry developed a game-changing horizontal technique of hydraulically fracturing, aka “fracking,” vast reserves of fossil fuels trapped in shale.
Energy markets around the world were upended. In 2014, the United States became the world’s third-largest producer of crude behind Saudi Arabia and Russia, producing enough oil to even export some. And, in 2017, the United States captured so much natural gas that – for the first time in 60 years – it exported more than it imported.
People got more of an adrenaline rush by the sight of giant wind turbines in the fall of 2003. At 257 feet tall, those first two in Bowling Green are less than half as tall as the ones proposed for Seneca County now.
That first pair was such a novelty that public officials had fun telling everyone how the host Wood County landfill had practically become a tourist attraction. At a news conference when Bowling Green’s second pair of turbines went up in the fall of 2014, locals took pride in jokingly referring to the city as “Blowing Green.”
Then-Mayor John Quinn stunned people at a news conference by suggesting Bowling Green had become as famous for its four wind turbines as hometown hero Scott Hamilton did in 1984 when he won the gold medal in figure skating at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.
Slowly, as plans for more turbines began to dot idyllic farms across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, the feel-good vibe vanished for many people as the wind industry grew up and became as corporate as the large utility corporations.
By 2011, a fiercely determined opposition movement in southeast Michigan’s Lenawee County was in full bloom, successfully fending off plans for a wind farm a little more than 20 miles northwest of downtown Toledo.
Other battles broke out, such as a pair of lawsuits the local Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the Virginia-based American Bird Conservancy filed against the federal government over its plan to erect a wind turbine at the Ohio National Guard’s Camp Perry training facility along the highly sensitive Lake Erie shoreline near Oak Harbor, Ohio. The National Guard finally agreed in the summer of 2017 to drop the plan for good, three years after suspending it for the first time.
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