ADA — Ohio’s wind power capacity is experiencing strong growth despite legislative setbacks and opposition from local groups that are against the construction of large-scale wind farms.
In 2016, Ohio installed 102 megawatts of utility-scale wind capacity — that is, capacity from wind farms used for bulk power. These projects helped rank Ohio among the top 10 nationwide in total wind capacity when it comes to the amount of megawatts installed since 2003, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy.
In January 2017, One Energy LLC secured $80 million in financing from Prudential Capital Group, signaling institutional capital acceptance of the company’s approach to providing distributed wind to industrial and commercial customers in Ohio. Ohio’s net-metering policy has no system capacity limit, so One Energy’s customers can have larger wind projects that displace more of their retail rate electricity with guaranteed power purchase agreement rates.
In northwest Ohio, there are 155 wind turbines in Van Wert County, six turbines in Hardin County, and five in Hancock County. Of the 155 turbines in Van Wert County, 152 are on the same wind farm near the Van Wert-Paulding County line. In Hardin County, a 66-megawatt wind farm is being proposed west of Dunkirk.
Despite recent growth in wind energy, legislation passed in 2014 contained language that more than doubled the distance a turbine could be from an adjacent property that is not part of a wind farm in Ohio. Earlier legislation also implemented a two-year freeze on the requirement for energy companies to supply a certain amount of electricity generated by wind and solar.
The 2014 legislation, which was adopted with no public debate, is costing the state $4.2 billion in economic development, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The organization arhued if wind energy legislation adjusted, the industry could help improve schools and fix roads, as well as attract new businesses to Ohio, create jobs and provide economic benefits to struggling farmers.
Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, is proposing less-restrictive legislation that would loosen Ohio’s turbine-setback standards, which are the minimum distance between turbines and property lines. Before the 2014 legislation passed, the minimum distance was 550 feet. When the legislation went into effect, the distance changed to 1,300 feet. Hite is proposing to set a limit of 600 feet.
“We appreciate the strong leadership shown by Sen. Cliff Hite, Sen. President Larry Obhof and the Senate leadership team who championed this vital regulatory reform,” said Andrew Gohn, eastern region policy director for the AWES. “With their support in continuing the fight, as well as support from Gov. (John) Kasich, we’re confident that common sense will soon prevail and that Ohio will grow more prosperous by unlocking the vast potential of wind power.”
But not everyone is thrilled about the construction of wind turbines in their hometown. The proposed Hog Creek Wind Farm near Dunkirk has been met with opposition from several local residents, including Beverly Hayes. Hayes wrote a letter to the Ohio Power Siting Board stating she is concerned that wind farms could lead to a decrease in property values, an increase in noise and vibrations, the destruction of farm land and a disruption in wildlife.
Patrick Gilman, a program manager with the Wind Energy Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy, said he could not speak about concerns regarding individual projects, but he has fielded questions about wildlife on a consistent basis.
“We recognize that there are impacts, and there are a lot of ways that the industry can mitigate those,” he said. “We’ve been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop technology measures and do studies that help understand what risks wildlife face, and develop tools to help the industry and state and federal fish and wildlife agencies help reduce those.”
Another group called “Fight the Wind,” which is made up of concerned residents in Hardin and Logan counties, is fighting the proposed Scioto Ridge Wind Project that would bring up to 105 wind turbines to the counties. In 2016, Logan County commissioners rejected a plan to build turbines in the county. EverPower Wind Holdings chose to forego the Logan County portion of the project due to the rejection, but 87 wind turbines in Hardin County are still slated for construction.
According to the Fight the Wind website, industrial wind farms cause “collateral damages” that include loss of property values, unreliable energy, increased electricity bills, noise, loss of wildlife, degradation of land and health issues, among other issues.
In a 2009 study, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley stated “neither the view of the wind energy facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities was found to have any consistent, measurable and significant effect on the selling prices of nearby homes.”
An Environmental Defense report from Canada stated that “study after study around the world has concluded that there is no scientific basis for claims about health impacts from wind power projects, and that wind power is both technically viable and has economic and environmental benefits.”
BENEFITS TO WIND
Gilman said there are even more benefits to wind energy aside from improving the economy.
“Obviously wind doesn’t emit any air pollution, and it doesn’t use water,” Gilman said. “The power sector is very water intensive, and wind doesn’t use any water to make electricity. So those are additional benefits as well.”
Gilman said there is also a misconception that wind energy is expensive and unreliable. With improvements to the technology of wind turbines, as well as cost reductions, Gilman said this is simply not true.
“The cost of wind energy has come down tremendously over the past 10 years,” he said. “The technology has also improved, as wind turbines have been significantly taller to reach up further above the ground where there’s stronger winds. Each turbine can capture much more wind than it previously did, and we can lower the cost of the technology at the same time.”
Although Ohio’s current legislation is more restrictive than other states in terms of wind energy, Gilman said the industry is still a “significant employer in Ohio,” with more than 2,000 people working in a few dozen manufacturing facilities around the state. He also said the future for wind energy looks brighter than it had a decade ago.
“Ten years ago, there were no utility-scale wind farms installed in Ohio,” he said. “If you asked a wind developer 10 years ago if Ohio was a good place for wind energy, they would have said ‘probably not.’ Today, Ohio wind looks a lot more attractive than it would have 10 years ago. That’s why you’ve seen development over the last five years.”
Gilman said wind energy is expected to keep growing in Ohio and across the nation despite legislative obstacles and opposition from certain sects of the population.
“I think that there is going to be more interest in developing wind projects in Ohio,” he said. “I think Ohio, as a big manufacturing state, will also see benefits in preserving and expanding the manufacturing base that it has now. So I think there will be additional opportunities for that as wind grows, not just in Ohio but around the country.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @Bush_Lima.