Wind rules debated, Champaign residents oppose changing standards

Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun provides award-winning coverage of energy issues that affect area residents. The paper has provided extensive coverage of the proposed Buckeye Wind Farm in Champaign County, along with numerous stories about the lengthy debate over Ohio’s future energy policies.

By the numbers:

222 — Number of operational wind turbines in Ohio

2 — Number of wind projects operational

20 to 25 years — Typical life expectancy of a wind farm

1,125 feet — Setback requirements from the nearest adjacent property line for projects submitted after Sept. 15, 2014

Source: Ohio Power Siting Board

The massive online retailer Amazon has weighed in on a proposal aimed at aimed at making it easier to locate and run wind farms in parts of Ohio, saying the state's current restrictions make it unattractive to build turbines in the state.

The proposed bill wouldn’t directly affect projects like the Buckeye Wind Farm in Champaign County. That project has been approved under previous rules but continues to face several legal challenges.

But the current, tougher standards are important to protect property owners living near the turbines, testified Julia Johnson of Champaign County. Johnson is a member of Union Neighbors United, a group of residents opposed to the Champaign County wind farm.

“I am here to express the opposition and anger of my community and the hundreds of voters across Northwest Ohio who have worked so hard to protect our property and families with reasonable setbacks from industrial wind turbines,” Johnson testified.

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Amazon is working with EDP Renewables to develop a 100 megawatt wind farm in Paulding County under the state’s older, looser rules.

But Ohio’s current restrictions are chilling future investment, said John Stephenson, manager of U.S. public policy for Amazon in testimony on Ohio House Bill 190.

“Unfortunately, Ohio’s wind turbine setback standards enacted a little more than two years ago have significantly diminished the attractiveness to further investments in wind generation in Ohio,” Stephenson said. “In fact, the current setbacks have acted as a moratorium of sorts on new wind development.”

Amazon is bulking up its presence in Ohio, where it has previously announced plans to build two new distribution centers and create as many as 2,000 jobs. The company is also developing data centers in central Ohio.

“Amazon believes the substitute version of HB 190 strikes a balance that would allow wind development in areas of Ohio where it makes the most economic and operational sense and will help bring Ohio more high-tech operations that increasingly depend on renewable energy,” Stephenson testified.

The 152-turbine Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert and Paulding counties is one of two operational wind farms in the state, said Dan Litchfield, project developer for Iberdrola Renewables. That wind farm was built under the previous setbacks, which were based on the distance between a turbine and a habitable structure. The new rules require turbines to be at least 1,125 feet from the tip of the blade to the nearest property line.

Blue Creek has been operational for four years and has received about 24 complaints from area residents since it began, Litchfield said. That covers an area that includes about 13,000 homes, he said.

Litchfield used a Google Earth presentation to show state lawmakers that under the newest setbacks, the Blue Creek project would have shrunk from 152 turbines spread over 30,000 acres to a total of 12 turbines. He noted there have been no applications for new wind farms submitted in the state since the new law was enacted.

“Fortunately the setback law change didn’t affect our operating project,” Litchfield said. “But we have two future projects that are totally dead in their tracks because of that change.”

But reducing the distance turbines must be set back from property lines would create safety and noise concerns for residents living in a wind farm’s footprint, Johnson said. She described the proposed bill as a gimmick to repeal the previously established setbacks.

Johnson testified that there are good reasons for the stricter setbacks. She cited nuisances like noise, moving shadows from the turbine blades, and also argued the turbines can affect property values.

“People ask why Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have generated so much support in the campaign for president,” Johnson testified. “It is because people are angry and this bill is the kind of legislation that fuels that anger.”