Amazon wants renewable energy to power its data centers planned for central Ohio, so the company is helping to build a wind farm — in North Carolina.
Clean-energy advocates say Ohio runs the risk of getting bypassed for big projects because of new setback limits passed last year by the Ohio General Assembly. The rules reduce the number of wind turbines that can be placed in most projects.
But it is difficult to argue that Ohio was passed over in this case.
The North Carolina project is being built by Iberdrola Renewables and will have 104 turbines and a capacity of 208 megawatts. It will provide renewable energy credits to Amazon that will offset the electricity used by data centers in Ohio and Virginia.
“Ultimately, it’s a great site,” said Art Sasse, Iberdrola’s director of communications, about the North Carolina location. “We have 24,000 acres that can be potentially developed.”
In other words, the strengths of the site were the greatest considerations, much more than any concerns about Ohio’s regulatory climate.
That said, Iberdrola has been an outspoken opponent of the setback changes in Ohio. The company was the developer of Creek Wind Farm in Paulding and Van Wert counties, which went live in 2012 and is the largest wind farm in the state, with more than 300 megawatts.
“We continue to remain optimistic that Ohio would be a great place to develop wind if we could get the legislature to reverse that setback,” Sasse said.
Under Ohio’s new rules, a wind turbine must be at least 1,300 feet from the nearest property line. This is a change from past rules, which led to minimum setbacks that were often about 550 feet from the line. The upshot is that developers need much more land to have the same number of turbines as under the old rules, which makes projects more expensive.
Amazon said in late May that it has chosen central Ohio for three data centers, which would be located in Dublin, Hilliard and New Albany.
The company is also purchasing power from a wind farm in Indiana.
Ohio’s energy policies do not seem to have been a factor in Amazon’s decision about where to build the centers, but it may be different for tech companies that want to be located close to renewable energy, said Dayna Baird Payne, Ohio lobbyist for the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.
“If we want them here, we should have reasonable setback standards so that communities that want wind farms can have them, and companies such as Facebook, Yahoo and Google can have the opportunity for wind energy located in Ohio,” she said.
Facebook looked at Ohio before announcing this month that it would build a data center in Fort Worth, Texas. There was no indication that state energy policy played a role in the decision.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, is among the supporters of the revised setbacks, which were tucked into a larger budget measure last year and then signed by Gov. John Kasich. Seitz says the rules help to protect the rights of nearby property owners who may not want to feel surrounded by the turbines.
“The last time I checked, people like to enjoy their yards and they don’t want to spend all their time in their house,” he said.
He also noted that Ohio regulators had approved several wind farms before the new rules. Some have not yet been built, and they are not subject to the new rules. So, if Amazon or any other company wants to get electricity from a new wind farm in the state, there are opportunities to do so.