Article

Wind farms a cash cow for communities, but not everyone's sold

VAN WERT, Ohio — Walk through the newly opened Lincolnview School District Community Center, and the first thing that comes to mind is this: It’s not your father’s community center.

It’s more like a health club for farmers, a state-of-the-art building that could give YMCA directors a hefty dose of jaw-dropping envy.

Located on the Lincolnview K-12 complex in a heavily rural part of Van Wert County, the $4.5 million center that opened last August was largely funded by revenue generated by area wind turbines.

It is cited by Van Wert County business leaders as a shining example of what Ohio’s budding wind industry — even in the face of many well-meaning and fiercely determined critics — can do for local communities.

The center has a 35,000-square-foot imprint. But what’s more eye-popping than its size is its versatility, an obvious playground for an imaginative architect.

There’s a gymnasium with 14 different acrylic basketball backboards, each of which can be electronically moved up or down at the touch of a button from the trainer height of seven feet for children to the regulation height of 10 feet for... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

VAN WERT, Ohio — Walk through the newly opened Lincolnview School District Community Center, and the first thing that comes to mind is this: It’s not your father’s community center.

It’s more like a health club for farmers, a state-of-the-art building that could give YMCA directors a hefty dose of jaw-dropping envy.

Located on the Lincolnview K-12 complex in a heavily rural part of Van Wert County, the $4.5 million center that opened last August was largely funded by revenue generated by area wind turbines.

It is cited by Van Wert County business leaders as a shining example of what Ohio’s budding wind industry — even in the face of many well-meaning and fiercely determined critics — can do for local communities.

The center has a 35,000-square-foot imprint. But what’s more eye-popping than its size is its versatility, an obvious playground for an imaginative architect.

There’s a gymnasium with 14 different acrylic basketball backboards, each of which can be electronically moved up or down at the touch of a button from the trainer height of seven feet for children to the regulation height of 10 feet for adults.

Three batting cages can be electronically lowered from the ceiling. There’s a court to play pickleball, a paddle sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. There’s equipment for indoor volleyball, soccer, and other sports. There’s even a removable part of the floor that allows visitors to do pole vaulting.

The floor itself is pretty amazing: It’s made of rubber that was poured hot, not tiles brought in and assembled. There are no seams to buckle. There is a room with ample free weights and machines, and an indoor track that allows residents to do plenty of long walks and running away from harsh weather.

The cost? A mere $25 annual fee, which also includes use of locker rooms. Any resident of the district can sign up and get an electronic key. There’s also a community room with lots of seating and tables free of charge for many groups. The only requirement is a $50 damage deposit.

“It’s more than athletics,” Jeff Snyder, Lincolnview Schools superintendent, said of the center. “It really does change the culture of our connectivity.”

And that’s the thing about wind turbines: How much are they changing the connectivity of people and is it for better or worse?

It’s been nearly 20 years since the commercial wind industry began making plans to move into northwest Ohio. Much anxiety remains over giant machines that are getting bigger, more powerful, and technologically advanced — not only here, but also to the east in Seneca, Huron, Sandusky, and Erie counties.

The turbines of 2019, some now rising more than 600 feet from base to the tip of their upper blade, are not your father’s windmills, either. They’re controlled by laptop-wielding operators miles away, constantly adjusted in accordance to shifting wind.

They also have created strange bedfellows.

President Trump caused a stir by reiterating last week how much he hates wind turbines. But many Republicans — especially those clamoring for more investment in job-deficient rural areas — love them.

Environmentalists and conservationists are split between those who promote renewable energy and those who are protective of birds, bats, and other avian creatures. Many people claim to like them in concept, but not at the expense of sacrificing private property rights or risking what they believe could be threats to their sleep patterns and overall health.

Wind turbines are, in short, a classic “Not in My Back Yard” issue.

Cash-cow for some

During an all-day tour last week of various sites in Van Wert and Paulding counties, several officials told The Blade their communities are doing just fine, even prospering beyond expectations, because of wind power.

“Thanks for listening to our story,” Paulding County Commission Chairman Roy Klopfenstein, said. “We’re kind of flyover country here.”

The $600 million Blue Creek Wind Farm — a collection of some 152 wind turbines across Paulding and Van Wert counties, near the Indiana state line — was Ohio’s largest construction project when most of it was installed in 2011.

FirstEnergy Solutions, American Municipal Power, and Ohio State University are its biggest customers.

Construction began in September, 2010, and that wind farm went online in early 2012. At 300 megawatts, it is still Ohio’s largest wind farm, at least for the moment. The Ohio Power Siting Board is considering projects that may surpass it.

About $2 million a year go to local landowners in the form of lease payments with another $2.7 million in annual payments to local taxing bodies. That includes another $400,000 annually for the Lincolnview School District in eastern Van Wert County.

The wind farm’s owner, Avangrid Renewables, formerly Iberdrola Renewables, has said it is the largest single taxpayer in Van Wert County where three-quarters of the project is located. It also has said its annual tax payments to Van Wert County are larger than the county’s next 11 businesses combined.

Also in that area are the Timber Road II and Timber Road III wind farms, with 55 and 48 turbines, respectively, and the recently authorized Timber Road IV wind farm, in which another 31 turbines will be erected. Installation begins soon.

Timber Road III’s main customer is online distributor Amazon while electricity generated by Timber Road IV will be purchased by tech giant Microsoft. The Timber Road wind farms are owned and operated by EDP Renewables North America.

Another wind farm, Michigan-based CMS Energy’s Northwest Ohio Wind project, consists of 42 turbines in southern Paulding County. It helps power all of GM’s Ohio and Indiana manufacturing facilities.

To Susan Munroe, a former Van Wert County Chamber of Commerce director now with the Chambers for Innovation & Clean Energy, there’s “no greater opportunity for economic development” than wind power.

Revenue generated by wind turbines have helped improve park districts, township roads, and senior citizen programs while keeping costs down. But, above all, it has brought stability to local schools in uncertain times:

■ At Paulding County’s Wayne Trace Local School District, a higher percentage of students have been graduating and more have scored in advanced and accelerated categories for achievement since revenue from wind farms began coming in, according to state test scores. Superintendent Ben Winans said there has been $4.5 million in turbine revenue since 2014, which has allowed the district to hire 18 additional staffers — mostly for special needs and intervention. Some $848,235 came in the last fiscal year. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without them,” Mr. Winans said of the giant turbines.

■ At Van Wert County’s Crestview Local Schools, wind turbines have generated an additional $880,000 a year, which has paid for new classrooms and other construction, as well as a school resource officer, and money for future contingencies. “It keeps you off the ballot. You can carry that money forward,” Superintendent Kathy Mollenkopf said. “We don’t have to go to our taxpayers for anything. That’s a good place to be.”

■ At Van Wert County’s Lincolnview Local Schools, turbines have generated $2 million since 2014, and — at a pace of $400,000 a year — are expected to bring $8 million in funding over 20 years. It has helped pay for new technology, a boiler, more parking, and a new roof. “Where we decide to put it is endless,” Mr. Snyder said, also stating that the additional money helped refinance bonds to save interest on the community center, which will also serve as a tornado shelter. The new center “would have been a very tough sell” to voters without revenue from wind turbines, he said.

“Our relationship with the wind energy companies has been sensational,” Rick Turner, superintendent of the Vantage Career Center, which serves 430 high school students from Paulding, Putnam, and Van Wert counties, said.

One of the highlights of the visit there was a $80,000, micro-sized wind turbine simulator that could help train future operators, or at least whet their appetites for mechanical science and physics.

Dan Joyce, a Vantage science teacher, said he has already seen it stimulate interest in some of the youths.

“What we’ve got here is a real cool piece of technology that will teach kids things they wouldn’t normally get,” Mr. Joyce said.

Not everyone’s sold

But the debate about wind turbines and the ability of rural families to coexist with them rages on, with wind power arguably as divisive among neighbors here as it is in Seneca, Huron, Sandusky, and Erie counties.

Van Wert county commissioners Todd Wolfrum and Thad Lichtensteiger are among several elected officials opposed to more wind turbines. Both are Republicans.

In a letter to a local newspaper three years ago, Mr. Wolfrum said wind turbines are as much of a nuisance as hog farms.

Mr. Lichtensteiger told The Blade there is “not a lot to say other than a great many of my constituents really don’t want more wind turbines.”

Perhaps the most vocal critic is Jeremy Kitson, one of the leaders of a grassroots group called Citizens for Clear Skies.

“We have mobilized to overwhelmingly beat pro-wind candidates at the ballot box,” Mr. Kitson said, citing the defeat of an incumbent state representative and two pro-wind candidates for county commission in recent years.

His group takes credit for ousting former state Rep. Tony Burkley, a Republican who served in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2013 to 2016. A former Paulding County commissioner, Mr. Burkley sponsored legislation that could have eased turbine-setback rules. He was replaced by political newcomer Craig Riedel, a Republican from Defiance.

The original requirement — which the industry dearly wants back — called for setbacks of 1.1 times the height of any turbine from any house, structure, or property line. The 2014 rules, signed into law by the former Kasich administration, nearly tripled the requirement and eliminated more than 90 percent of proposed sites.

Had the current rules been in place when the Blue Creek Wind Farm was developed, only 12 of the 152 turbines could have been erected. Company officials have said there’s no way its $600 million investment would have been made in Ohio and that it likely would have gone to neighboring Indiana, which also had been under consideration.

Those current setback requirements anger supporters — especially after Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy announced last October it was giving up on its proposed Long Prairie Wind project in Van Wert and Mercer counties — citing what it considers onerous setback rules.

Jerry Zielke, Paulding County economic development director, said he believes the Ohio Senate is “on board to fix this mess.”

The latest phase of the Timber Road wind farm is contingent upon neighbors agreeing to sign setback waivers, according to the project developer, EDP Renewables North America LLC.

“We estimate we’ve injected $93 million in Paulding County,” EDP’s project management director, Erin Bowser, said.

One of the wind industry’s key supporters is F.W. Purmort, president and board chairman of Central Insurance Companies. He is among those upset about the current setback rules. With a staff of 400 and combined assets of $1 billion, Central Insurance is one of Van Wert County’s largest employers and dates back to 1876.

“The wind is still here. The opportunity is still here,” Mr. Purmort said.

Mr. Klopfenstein said he lives near eight turbines but collects no money from them.

He said wind power is “almost the perfect investment” for Paulding County’s 19,000 residents, and — as county commission chairman — can’t wait to get more turbines.

“Bring on the wind,” Mr. Klopfenstein said, a remark aimed at the wind industry in general. “We’ll take whatever you can give us.”


Source: https://www.toledoblade.com...

APR 7 2019
http://www.windaction.org/posts/50054-wind-farms-a-cash-cow-for-communities-but-not-everyone-s-sold
back to top