COLUMBUS — Wind turbines continue to sprout across the United States and Ohio, but the pace slowed in 2017, and industry advocates continue to have grave concerns about Ohio rules that limit where turbines can be placed.
The industry completed projects this past year that add up to 7,017 megawatts, which is down 14 percent from the prior year, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.
In Ohio, the 2017 total was 72 megawatts, down 30 percent. That includes one big project, the Hog Creek Wind Farm in Hardin County, which is 66 megawatts and went online in December, as well as two smaller projects that provide electricity to Whirlpool manufacturing plants.
“The entire industry has been in turmoil,” said Jereme Kent, CEO of One Energy, the Findlay-based wind developer that worked on the Whirlpool projects, referring to wind development both nationally and in Ohio. “When the industry is in turmoil, it jumps to the safe, predictable jobs.”
He points to several factors, including changes to federal tax policy and questions about how those changes will affect the ability to finance wind projects. And there is the longstanding concern that Ohio policy is hostile to the industry.
Tom Kiernan, CEO of the wind-energy trade group, focused on the positive and downplayed the one-year decline, noting that 2017 ended with several big projects going online, and many other large developments that are in progress.
“This American success story will continue, with the wind project construction and advanced development pipeline four times greater than the amount installed in 2017,” he said in a statement issued earlier this week. “That means tens of billions in additional infrastructure investment is on its way to the United States of America.”
Including projects completed in 2017, the country has capacity of 89,077 megawatts of wind energy, which is enough to provide for the needs of 26 million houses, the group said.
Ohio’s total is now 617 megawatts. For some perspective, Texas, the national leader, has about 36 times more wind capacity installed than Ohio, and Ohio trails all of its neighbors except for Kentucky.
Wind-energy advocates in Ohio have said development has been severely hindered by a 2014 law that increased the amount of space required between wind turbines and an adjacent property.
Since then, the only major projects to be completed — including Hog Creek — are ones that state regulators had approved before the rule change and do not need to follow the new regulations.
“You’re running out of the grandfathered projects,” said Kent of the Findlay company.
The Ohio Power Siting Board lists seven wind farms that have been approved but are not yet completed, two of which are under construction.
Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, is one of the leading supporters of rules that limit wind-energy development, and has become a frequent adversary of the wind energy group.
On Friday, the group singled out Seitz in a news release about a proposed rule change before the Power Siting Board in which Seitz supports a position that would be “a death sentence for wind energy,” the group said.
“The wind energy lobby is desperate to make me their boogeyman, but there are far more people than me that insist on proper protection,” Seitz said by email, referring to people who own land next to proposed wind farms.