November 15, 2018

Seneca East school district joins opposition to wind farm project

Tom Henry, Blade Staff Writer | The Blade | Nov 14, 2018 |

ATTICA, Ohio – With no discussion, the Seneca East board of education unanimously approved a resolution to intervene in upcoming Ohio Power Siting Board hearings that will decide the fate of the controversial Seneca Wind project.

The 5-0 vote was taken Tuesday night at a special Seneca East Local Schools meeting called to discuss and vote on the resolution.

In approving it, the school district joined four of five Seneca County townships that have passed similar resolutions to intervene, the most recent coming Monday night from Seneca County’s Venice Township. The only one in Seneca that hasn’t passed a resolution is Bloom Township, where three of five trustees are leaseholders.

School board president Jaimie Beamer told The Blade after the meeting the board had wanted to remain neutral but saw the groundswell of opposition that has come in recent months – much of it coordinated by a new grassroots group, the Seneca Wind Anti-Union.

About 50 people attended the board meeting. Four registered in advance to speak, one of whom was Gordon Gray, director of wind development for sPower of Salt Lake City, the project’s developer.

“Our project will not adversely affect the health of students at Seneca East. We would not have undertaken it if it would,” Mr. Gray told school board members. “We look forward to working with the board and working through its concerns.”

Chris Aichholz, a Seneca Anti-Wind Union organizer, said after the meeting he is “just super-excited the board voted to intervene.”

“It’s a good step to protect the children,” said Mr. Aichholz, adding that his son, Harrison, will be entering kindergarten at the large K-12 facility the district owns and operates at 13343 E. U.S. Hwy. 224 on the outskirts of Attica.

Residents have obtained records that show sPower has plans to erect 16 commercial-scale turbines within 2 miles of the consolidated building.

Mr. Gray did not confirm or deny the number. Those 16 are among 85 turbines sPower plans to erect in Seneca’s Scipio, Reed, Venice, Eden, and Bloom townships. The developer wants to use machines in excess of 600 feet in height, some of the tallest in the country.

Seneca East Local Schools stands to receive $500,000 in tax revenue if the project is approved. Another major wind farm, the Republic Wind project, is eyed for several Seneca County townships and Sandusky County’s York Township.

Both it and Seneca Wind are 200-megawatt projects. Plans for a much larger one – the 300-megawatt Emerson Creek wind farm, which would have the capability of producing 50 percent more power – will be unveiled at an open house in Norwalk, Ohio, on Thursday night. The latter is expected to be developed mostly in Erie and Huron counties, but Seneca residents believe it will likely come into their county too.

One of those who spoke in opposition to the Seneca Wind project during Tuesday night’s school board meeting was Tami Andrews, a retired sixth-grade teacher,, who said she lives 2 miles west of the K-12 building and used to promote renewable power as a teacher.

“I was picturing wind turbines in the prairies out West,” she told the board.

She said she has many concerns about how noise, vibrations, and shadow flicker from the big machines could affect Seneca East schoolchildren, especially those with autism and other sensory disorders.

“For someone on the autism spectrum, that would be torment,” Ms. Andrews said of shadow flicker, which is a repetitive, strobelike phenomenon that she said is hard to block with window shades.

She also said the effects could impact outside activities, recess, sporting events, and the ability of high school students to achieve their potential on college entrance exams.

“School will be a daily experience to be dreaded,” Ms. Andrews said.

Mr. Gray told the board he’s confident such concerns can be overcome.

“Schools and wind projects have a great history of forming partnerships across the country, and we’re confident Seneca Wind will,” he said. “We want to be a partner with you and address those concerns.”

Plans call for 49 of the 85 turbines to be erected within the boundaries of the Seneca East school district, Mr. Gray said.

He told The Blade later that sPower is waiting for an administrative judge to set the OPSB hearings. Once sPower obtains all needed permits, it can get its turbines for the Seneca Wind project erected in eight months, he said.

“We certainly are hearing a lot of passion and strong feelings here,” Mr. Gray said. “It’s not the only place in the country where there’s that level of passion.”

Seneca Wind, recently certified by the state of Ohio as a qualified energy project, is expected to generate $56 million in revenue for Seneca County, several townships, and school districts over its 30-year lifetime.

The company vows to hire at least half of its full-time equivalent employees from Ohio and work with an Ohio university or apprenticeship program to support education and training for careers in the wind industry. It also has agreed to upgrade roads, bridges, and culverts, as well as provide emergency response training for fire and emergency responders.

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