BUCYRUS — The ever changing regulations on the nation’s energy resources have focused energy development companies and electric providers to reevaluate how they deliver power to customers. Buzz words like “renewable energy” and “green technology” come to mind. As the federal government enforces to regulations to shift the power supply from fossil fuels to alternative sources, companies are pushing to start projects.
Ohio, and Crawford County specifically, are a prime target for these projects.
Dozens of local farmers and landowners from Crawford and surrounding counties gathered at Bucyrus Public Library on Feb. 10 for a discussion on wind energy development that is happening in north central and northwestern Ohio. Many of them have been approached by companies within the last couple of years looking to locate a project.
Dale Arnold, director of energy and local government policies at the Ohio Farm Bureau, gave a presentation to shed light on what all of this means to a rural community.
While Arnold did not mention any wind projects by name, the proposed Black Fork Wind Farm in eastern Crawford County (north of Crestline) and Richland County has been approved for construction.
It will be a 24,000-acre operation with nearly 100 turbines, capable of generating up to 200 megawatts of electricity. Element Power, based in Oregon, is the developer. The latest word is that construction will not begin until 2015.
But it is not only wind projects that are on the way. Arnold noted there are plans for solar projects in southern Ohio, oil and gas projects in eastern Ohio and biofuel projects all over the state.
One reason why involves energy market trends. Prices for natural gas, crude oil and electricity have been volatile over the last decade, and all of them have an effect on agricultural commodities, which is why farmers in particular need to get involved in the renewable energy discussion. To control energy costs, power suppliers need a diversified portfolio using different fuel sources.
The second reason for renewable energy projects is more alarming. In Ohio, 88 percent of the electric generation capacity is coal fired. The youngest plant was built in 1972, so in the coming years plants will either need to be retrofitted to make them compliant with new EPA regulations or fully retired.
Something needs to be done now to replace those plants that do go offline. Right now, the question is what type of projects to invest in. Arnold emphasized that discussions on a local level need to happen NOW, in order to begin educating people on this issue.
He said there is no denying that renewables are coming to this area, but learning about one type of energy source is beneficial to understanding any others as they come through.
Understanding how the wind blows
Wind energy currently makes up 47 megawatts of generation capacity in the U.S., second only to natural gas in new generation capacity. One hundred new projects are in development, and the technology continues to evolve.
Crawford County is an ideal location for wind projects because it has a class two wind (which is good), is in close proximity to power transmission lines and has plenty of open land.
Project sites need at least two open acres for the operation and 10 open acres during construction. The turbines must be outside of FAA restricted zones, and positioned at least 750 feet from public roads, 1,000 feet from another turbine and 1,250 feet from buildings. They cannot be positioned near woodlots, wildlife habitat or wetlands.
For anyone considering giving up some land for wind projects, Arnold also explained that the lease agreements are complicated due to all the paperwork involved. He recommended getting an attorney that specializes in these types of contracts; the Ohio Farm Bureau has a list of such attorneys. Landowners can work as a group to share resources, but the agreement itself is done on an individual basis.
The good news is that the landowner does have the power to negotiate the terms and specifications of the agreement. He emphasized that eminent domain does not apply, so development companies can not take away private land.
Landowners are paid based on a formula and various details, but the payout can be as much as $7,000-15,000 per year, per megawatt hour produced. However, note that Ohio law prohibits “free electricity” for the landowner.
The lessor is responsible for the maintenance of the equipment and must repair the land after construction, back to its original state. The landowner must provide access roads to the turbines for the life of the project.
Any project that produces 5 megawatts of power or more must be governed by the Ohio Power Siting Board, which must issue a permit before construction can begin. This process takes about 18-24 months. Each wind turbine is studied individually and requires individual approval. Project engineers consider the need for the project, the environmental impact and how it will affect agricultural land.
“The communities that invest the time and effort early on will avoid issues later,” Arnold advised.
He explained that public meetings are an important part of the process, because it becomes a community decision once landowners talk to their neighbors, local government and business leaders and energy service providers.
There is also an opportunity in the negotiations to ask how to get involved with local businesses and contractors for these projects, as many Ohio companies manufacture parts for the turbines.
The presentation was sponsored by the Crawford and Marion County Farm Bureaus.