Will Paulding County see any more new wind farms?

Article published in the June 25 Paulding County Progress:
Progress Staff Writer
PAULDING — Within the past few weeks, the future for wind energy in Paulding County and neighboring Van Wert County has most likely taken on a new look. Two recent changes from Columbus may reverse the future countryside scenery for several proposed #windfarms in Paulding County.

However, more important than the change of scenery will be the financial impact and potential loss of income. Wind farm revenue has been responsible for benefiting schools as well as several county and township entities.

On Friday, June 13, Senate Bill 310 was signed into law by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, putting a two-year hiatus on renewable-energy standards in the state. Then Monday, June 16, Kasich put his signature on House Bill 483 without using a line item which would have eliminated stiffer requirements for setbacks of wind turbines from property lines.

EDP Renewables, which operates the Timber Road II Wind Farm, will be forced to shelve their next two phases for clean renewable energy.

“We have two projects we want to build but will need to shelve for now,” said Erin Bowser, director of Project Management. “Our permits are approved by the siting board and we have everything we need to proceed. What we don’t have is a contract with a utility to buy the power. And with the two-year freeze we won’t have a contract due to the standard changes.”

Timber Road II is Ohio’s first industrial scale wind farm consisting of 55 wind turbines producing 99 mega watts of clean renewable energy. In 2013, Timber Road II provided approximately $1.3 million. With the passage of Senate Bill 310 and House Bill 483, the county could lose $2.6 in projected new income.

“With the freeze and changes taking place, it basically takes away from us the ability to market our product,” said Bowser.

State Representative Tony Burkley, supporter of the wind farms said, “The thought was that a review be made concerning the previous standards and how they are being met. I certainly would have preferred not to go with the two-year moratorium. This is certainly not going to benefit Paulding or Van Wert county,” he concluded.

While no official announcement has been made concerning the future of locally constructed wind farms by Iberdrola Renewables, Project Developer Dan Litchfield said on Tuesday, June 17, “We are disappointed with the two recent changes in Ohio’s energy policy, both their substance and the process by which the setback requirements were changed. The setback provision specifically had no opportunity for public comment or input.”
Iberdrola Renewables has 37 turbines in Paulding County with a total of 152 within the entire Blue Creek wind farm project.

“This is the fourth attempt in three years to make changes and get this particular bill passed. The setback change was done a little sneaky. The budget bill was a 1,200-page document and the setback provision was stuck on the last page. There was no opportunity for testimony or comment,” said Litchfield.

Ohio law says turbines had to be 1,250 feet away from the nearest inhabited residence. The new revision of House Bill 483 now states turbines must be 1,250 from the nearest property line.

The new setbacks will make any new wind farm difficult to design. Of the 150 turbines at Blue Creek Wind Farm, only 12 would adhere to the new law. But even with the new setback distances in force, Ohio State Senator Cliff Hite stated that property owners could still proceed if a waiver was signed.

“If somebody wants to waive that stipulation, they may. (You would only lose that many turbines) only if nobody waives their rights,” Hite pointed out.

Hite voted in favor of both measures.

Litchfield said, “We are currently assessing our options for future investment in Ohio, but there’s no question that more investment in Ohio just became a much riskier proposition. We’ve made no decisions on Ohio. We are discussing and evaluating our options. It’s frustrating but it appears that for Ohio everything looks almost impossible.”

A statement directly from the American Wind Energy Association was harsher in tone, quoting AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan as saying that Kasich and the legislature “are creating an unfriendly business environment in Ohio.”
Kiernan went on to say, “Legislators rammed through restrictive rules without due process, and millions of dollars already invested based on the previous set of rules may now be lost without any public debate. This will force clean energy developers and manufacturers to move to neighboring states with similar resources and friendlier business climates.”

Sen. Hite, a wind energy-backer, explained that with changes in the marketplace, perhaps having 25 percent of the state’s energy coming from renewable energy by 2025 needed to be reexamined.

“It was time to have another look at exactly what we were doing with our in-state standards and making sure that the average Ohioan is getting the best bang for their buck,” Hite shared.

“That was the purpose of this. Things have changed since we set up those standards. We didn’t know about natural gas and the supply that exists today. That has kind of changed the game a little bit as far as what does give the best bang for your buck. It’s a competitive game and a it’s market game and we have to look at it and try to find out what is the best we can do for Ohioans. So to have a pause for a couple of years is not a bad thing.”

Hite noted that Blue Creek will be grandfathered in to the new rules. Actually, any wind farm approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board currently qualifies to be built. Any changes to the specifics of the development cannot be changed without being brought under the new measurements for setbacks.

Hite concluded simply, “I’m not as optimistic for new projects as I was a year or two ago.”

“This is an Ohio job killer, pure and simple,” wrote Mark Goodwin, president of Apex Clean Energy. With the setback requirement, he wrote, Apex “will have no choice but to take its investment and its business elsewhere. Given the need to find new carbon-free sources of electricity in Ohio, we cannot imagine a worse time to send wind energy companies packing.”

Whether Iberdrola comes to the same conclusion remains to be seen. In a statement, the AWEA said, “The American wind industry has generated major economic benefits for Ohio, which ranks first in the nation for the number of wind energy manufacturing facilities with more than 60 in the state.

“Yet there was no opportunity for the regulators at the Ohio Power Siting Board, nor a single wind company operating or developing in Ohio, to comment or provide testimony on this matter during its short one-week consideration in the General Assembly…

“Gov. John Kasich and the Legislature abandoned $2.5 billion in current wind energy projects, which now face cancellation along with jobs, leases, payments to local governments, and orders for factories, over a needlessly restrictive setback requirement that Kasich signed into law.”

– Additional reporting by Ed Gebert, DHI Media

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