MANSFIELD, Ohio – The Black Fork Wind Farm project is finally moving forward again with a new company at the helm.
The Richland County Commissioners met with Bill Behling, business development manager for Capital Power, during their regular meeting on Thursday to discuss the next steps for the wind farm project. Capital Power is the third company to acquire the Black Fork Wind Farm project in the past seven years.
“We’re here for the long term, we’re not a company that comes in and develops, flips it, sells it to somebody else and gets out of town,” said Behling. “We want to become a member of the community, and we’ll have 10 to 15 full-time turbine maintenance employees after a peak of 150 to 200 construction workers.”
“That’s what they all say,” replied Commissioner Tim Wert.
Behling explained Capital Power acquired the Black Fork Wind Farm from its previous owner, Element Power, towards the end of 2014. Element Power sold 14 of their ongoing projects to Capital Power, 10 wind power projects and four solar. Capital Power has completed four wind power projects in the past four years.
“Our goal is to be in a position to start construction a year from now, in the spring of 2017,” said Behling.
The Black Fork Wind Farm will consist of 91 wind turbines measuring at approximately 500 feet tall, spread out across 14,800 acres of private, mainly agricultural land leased from more than 100 landowners in Richland County.
Two years ago, the project was delayed in court when a group of local residents concerned about property values, noise, wear and tear on roads from heavy construction equipment and damage to the environment filed a lawsuit claiming the Ohio Power Siting Board prohibited their due process.
In December 2013, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the Ohio Power Siting Board’s decision to approve the construction of the wind farm, ruling that the residents had ample input in the hearing process and never requested the hearing be suspended or continued.
Behling said currently the wind farm has received its certificate and stipulation agreement conditions from the Ohio Power Siting Board, and is currently completing the lease renewal process with affected landowners. Also in the process is updating environmental studies, securing power purchase agreements in the next six months, including determining megawatts, and completing local permitting activities.
One stipulation discussed at length was a road use maintenance agreement drafted by the Richland County Prosecutor’s office that Capital Power would be expected into prior to construction. The agreement would require that money be set aside for the repair of roads after the wind farm project is complete, a concern raised by landowners.
“It’s been a policy of the county that bonding is not our preference in the road use agreement,” added Wert. “A bond can be argued, held up in court, stretched for many years, while in the meantime our roads suffer and we would be expected to come up with the money in the interim.”
Behling explained a fund would be established for decommissioning a wind turbine years down the road if they were rendered obsolete; Capital Power would be responsible for removing all wind turbine equipment up to four feet underground.
Other concerns raised by landowners include noise and shadow flicker, a phenomenon when the rotation of wind turbine blades causes alternating periods of shadow and light. Behling explained according to Capital Power’s stipulation, shadow flicker must be regulated to 30 hours per year and noise no louder than five decibels above the average nighttime decibel level.
The maximum number of wind turbines and wattage allowed by the Black Fork Wind Farm project is 91 turbines and 200 megawatts. The number of turbines depends on the type of turbines used, and the amount of megawatts produced by each turbine. Behling explained the turbine sites have been finalized, and turbines cannot be moved if they are unable to be built in their current assigned spots.
“We can’t move the turbines from the 91 locations,” he said. “If a couple land owners elect not to resign for whatever reason, or if a couple turbines drop out, we can’t then move those turbines to another place.”
Behling mentioned a four-mile stretch of land where access points and collection systems may require a redesign by request of the Ohio Power Siting Board. Resident Gary Biglin said later this was, in fact, not the case.
“The original certificate [from the Ohio Power Siting Board] is just fine with that route,” said Biglin. “But what he’s not being clear on is land this falls on landowners now that don’t want to re-sign. A reroute is not because the Siting Board says it shouldn’t go there now, it’s already approved. They’re not changing their mind and saying it can’t be there; some of their land acquisition rights are evaporating.”
Behling also noted three companies are in consideration for manufacturing the wind turbines – Siemans in Kansas, GE in Iowa, and Vestas in Colorado. Residents noted the importance of a national company is not to be understated.
“There are land owners right now who are teetering on the decision, do I go with this or away from this,” said resident Brett Heffner. “Choosing an American company may make a difference.”