KENTON — Massive construction cranes have taken over parts of southern Hardin County and northern Logan County.
Once quiet, rural roads are now filled with trucks, some pulling long trailers with multiple axles that haul blades nearly 200 feet long, sections of towers and other parts for wind turbines. The trucks maneuver through narrow county and township roads on their way to concrete foundations already built in farm fields.
In those fields are cranes, some hundreds of feet tall, to be used in assembling the 75 turbines that make up the $300 million Scioto Ridge Wind Farm, named in part because of its proximity to the source of the Scioto River.
When finished this year, the turbines will tower over the countryside, becoming one of the state’s largest wind farms.
From the ground to the tip of the turbine, the windmills will reach nearly 500 feet.
The project is being driven by demand for cleaner sources of energy.
“There’s lots of customers that want to see renewable energy,” said Jason Dagger, the project manager for the wind farm.
The wind farm
The Scioto Ridge project was proposed in 2008. The 250-megawatt project will generate enough electricity to power nearly 60,000 homes.
RWE Renewables, a German-based power company, is the developer, taking over Scioto Ridge recently from Innogy.
The turbines, each weighing about 100 tons, will be spread over 20,000 acres.
About 100 farmers and property owners hosting the turbines figure to get between $12,000 and $15,000 a year for the life of the project, and more than $1 million a year in total payments, for giving up for what amounts to about a half-acre to an acre of land, and for putting up with noise from the turbines and what some consider an eyesore.
School districts and other government bodies will share about $2.25 million a year in payments.
The project has created about 150 construction jobs and about 10 permanent jobs.
The project has meant big changes for the rural area.
Lorne Quay, 55, whose 3-acre property is surrounded by three turbines, watches big trucks rumble down his once-quiet road barely wide enough for two vehicles at a time.
“I’m waiting for them to get finished because of the traffic,” he said.
RWE spent $1 million to rebuild three local bridges to accommodate the trucks.
The company also has had to temporarily widen roads and intersections so that trucks pulling the blades and other parts can make the extra-wide turns.
Farmland has been turned into temporary construction sites, with new gravel roads giving workers access to each turbine site.
The towers themselves have a diameter of about 20 feet.
The construction of Scioto Ridge is similar to what has happened elsewhere in Ohio over the past decade or so when it comes to developing new sources of energy.
Wind farms dot parts of northwest Ohio, while the fracking boom has changed parts of eastern Ohio as companies drill for oil and natural gas. Solar farms are also being developed in the state.
All have meant changes to the countryside.
“All energy sources and the development that comes with them have their challenges as well as their upsides,” Mike Chadsey, spokesman for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said in an email.
Chadsey argues that oil and gas development makes better use of land than windmills because a smaller piece of land can be used to generate the same amount of power as hundreds of windmills.
RWE says it works with landowners to make projects less obtrusive.
An electric substation, for example, was relocated behind a wooded area so a property owner wouldn’t have to look at it in front of his house everyday.
“It is everyone’s best interest for the development to be a good neighbor,” said Greg Alvarez, spokesman for the American Wind Association.
Turbines are getting bigger, meaning that not as many are needed in a farm to generate as much power as they used to, he said.
Like with oil and gas, the wind industry promotes the economic benefit of its projects to the community, many of which have had decades of stagnant or declining population.
Not everyone is thrilled with Scioto Ridge.
“I don’t like them,” said Jerry Stout, 75, who lives about three-quarters of a mile from the nearest turbine.
Stout said he was asked to participate in the project on his 100 acres of land.
“I told them my way of life wasn’t for sale,” he said, complaining about how the turbines are disrupting the scenic nature of the area.
Wind makes up only about 1.7% of the electricity generated in Ohio, according to the wind association, which counts 419 windmills in Ohio, 24th among the states.
The flat land of Paulding and Van Wert counties is home to the bulk of the state’s windmills. There also is another farm in Hardin County that is smaller than Scioto Ridge.
State officials recently gave approval for a project in Lake Erie, but developers say the project can’t proceed because of the restrictions that were put in place.
Other projects have been proposed, including in Seneca County, where opposition is especially strong. Residents wearing yellow T-shirts jammed the Statehouse last year over House Bill 6, the controversial bill that provides subsidies for the state’s two nuclear power plants, pushing for more restrictions on wind farms.
Opponents dispute the value of the turbines and their energy production. They say the turbines disrupt the peaceful nature of rural communities and drive down property values.
There also are complaints about noise from the spinning turbines and shadows that are created at times from the blades.
Project manager Dagger said technology now allows the shadows and noise of the turbines to be better controlled.
“If someone tells me I don’t want to look at a wind turbine, I totally understand that,” Dagger said. “That’s someone’s opinion and their right to that opinion.”
Paulding County, in northwest Ohio, has embraced the surge in turbines in recent years, said Jerry Zielke, the county’s assistant economic development director.
Farmers in the county actually drove the initial wind development, and big companies such as Amazon, General Motors and Microsoft want to buy the power the projects create.
“What it did is generate people’s interest in new, clean energy,” he said.
The wind association says that, over time, property owners get used to the turbines.
A wind association survey finds that 92% of homeowners who live within 5 miles of a turbine either like them or don’t mind them.
That includes Quay, the 55-year-old who will get paid by the developer because of the proximity of the turbines to his home.
“I don’t have any ill thoughts about them,” he said. “I’d rather have these than a hog farm.”