With wind energy power lines potentially coming to Allen County, questions rise on viability
SPENCERVILLE — Wind turbines are becoming an increasingly common part of America’s landscape as companies seek to take advantage of a free energy source to help offset the nation’s dependence on finite fossil fuels for energy. However, this technology is often met with resistance amid concerns over potential health effects and depreciating property values.
This debate is heating up in Allen County, as the county port authority will consider an easement for Charlottesville, Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy to build a transmission line from a proposed Van Wert County wind farm, which could house between 125 and 175 turbines. The lines are necessary to link the energy generated at the farm to the existing power grid at an American Electric Power station in southwest Lima. According to Apex’s website, the Long Prairie Wind farm is expected to have a capacity of 450 megawatts, enough to power 136,000 homes. On Thursday, the Allen County Port Authority will consider granting an easement to Apex, creating a pathway for installing the power lines.
“If they get approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board to do this, the line will go through Allen County somewhere, because they are required to hook up with the grid at the station in south Lima,” Port Authority executive director Jerry Arkebauer said.
The current plan is to run the transmission line along the Allen-Van Wert rail line that runs east to west along the north edge of Spencerville through Spencer, Amanda and Shawnee Townships a total distance of almost 13 miles. The Port Authority owns the easement land along that rail line, which extends approximately 50 feet on each side of the line, hence the request for an easement.
Dan Blondeau, public affairs manager for Apex, noted that this step with the port authority is one of many that would need to take place before a transmission line is installed.
“The Ohio Power Siting Board authorizes the construction of transmission lines in Ohio,” he said. “During the OPSB’s rigorous application phase, there will be multiple opportunities for the public to participate in the process.”
Arkebauer noted regulations call for two public meetings on the lines prior to OPSB approval, giving the public opportunities to voice grievances. In addition, the port authority has received letters of objection from Spencerville and Spencer Township, as well as other residents.
“They want to tell the board about their concerns, and that’s why we moved the upcoming meeting from the conference room downstairs (at the Allen Economic Development Group) upstairs to the City Club, because there’s more room there for the people,” he said.
As discussions over the expansion of wind energy have continued, other objections to this technology have also been raised.
A hefty price?
Wind may indeed be free, but opponents of wind energy maintain that harvesting that energy is anything but.
“There are problems with this that people are not aware of, and one of the biggest ones is that wind is one of the most expensive ways to reduce (carbon dioxide),” according to Kevon Martis, founder of the Michigan-based Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition. “There’s a document from Michigan’s grid operator that shows that we can reduce CO2 emissions by building new gas plants at the price of $36 to $38 a ton. Wind turbines will reduce CO2, too, but at $237 a ton.”
A 2014 Forbes magazine article noted that, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nine out of the top 10 wind energy production states had at least a 14 percent rise in electricity prices as of the end of 2013, with Idaho as high as 34 percent.
For Blondeau, the fact that the fuel of wind energy comes at no cost plays a large role in making it competitive.
“Since a wind turbine’s ‘fuel’ is free, wind energy is inflation-proof and protected consumers from fuel spikes,” he said. “Utilities can lock in a price for more than 20 years, as a fixed-rate mortgage does versus adjustable rates.”
Is it reliable?
Martis also maintained that, while wind is free, it is not consistent, as changing weather patterns result in changing wind patterns, ranging from huge gusts to totally calm air.
“Wind energy shows up historically at times when it’s needed the least,” he said, “which is at night, and almost never in July and August at times of peak demand. It has little economic value because the price of energy markets varies based on demand.”
With wind energy also subsidized by the federal government, it can have a destructive effect on wholesale energy markets, Martis said.
“All those other plants, like nuclear and gas, need those energy sales to be viable,” he said.
Blondeau acknowledged that wind can be intermittent, but he maintained it is still reliable.
“Meteorology has become accurate enough to give grid managers ample warning to seamlessly integrate wind energy into their system,” he said. “Wind energy and natural gas complement each other well, because natural gas ‘peaker’ plants can come online quickly and cheaply when the wind energy production is low.”
Apex will make its presentation to the Port Authority at 4 p.m. Thursday at the City Club.