Monday, October 25th, 2010
By Shelley Grieshop
Van Wert to give wind power a whirl
Schools, county will see financial boost
  VAN WERT - Beginning this spring nearly 160 wind turbines - reaching five times taller than area farm silos - will dot the horizon in Van Wert and Paulding counties.
The majority of the proposed turbines - 121 - will be built in Van Wert County, three miles north of downtown Van Wert. The electricity generated will flow into an electric transmission grid in the Convoy area to power homes and businesses across Ohio.
The estimated $700 million wind farm is expected to be at least partially operational by the end of 2011. It will be the second in the state, although it will dwarf the first - four turbines operating in Bowling Green.
Van Wert officials hope the Blue Creek Wind Farm project boosts the county's weak economy. Legislation passed in June will allow the wind development company, Heartland Wind LLC, to pay a total of $2.2 million annually to the county, three school districts and three townships, in lieu of paying property tax and a multi-million dollar utility tax.
The annual payments will continue as long as the turbines are in operation.
Doug Fries, superintendent of Lincolnview Local Schools in Van Wert County, said 30 to 35 of the turbines will operate on property within his district, bringing in roughly $294,000 each year.
"It will be two to three years until they (turbines) are all up and running and we start seeing the money, but obviously, from a financial standpoint, it will be a big benefit," Fries said.
No plans have been made for the added revenue, he said.
The 20 or so acres where turbines will be built in the school district now bring less than $500 per year in real estate property taxes, county officials said. That amount is split among the county, school and township.
Prior to passage of the property tax exemption law, school officials and other community leaders argued for nearly twice the revenue they'll actually receive, Fries said.
"We're always looking at what's fair, of course. We could have gotten more ... but I guess half is better than nothing," he said, adding the project could have been moved elsewhere.
About twice as many turbines are planned in the Crestview Local Schools area, which means even bigger tax abatement payments for that district. The other school to benefit is Vantage Career Center, although nonpublic educational facilities don't collect as much tax revenue as public schools.
Fries said he has mixed emotions about the impact of the wind turbine project. Keeping area roads in good condition during each stage of the development is a concern.
"Our buses have to run down those roads," he said.
The project is in the initial construction stage, with concrete poured last week for the foundation of several turbines. Contractors have begun to upgrade 12 miles of roadways to handle incoming heavy equipment; the cost is being paid by Heartland Wind, not taxpayers, county commissioners said.
Each turbine will generate 2 megawatts of electricity and will utilize a total of 17,000 acres of leased private land involving 140 property owners, mostly farmers.
"We were told that most of the farmers are getting about $7,000 (annually) for each turbine on their land," Van Wert County commissioner Clair Dudgeon said.
The construction phase will create about 250 temporary jobs, and permanent employees will number between 15 and 20, company officials said.
Paul Copleman, communications manager for Iberdrola, parent company of Heartland Wind, said the Van Wert/Paulding county area was chosen for several reasons: wind speed, available land, proximity to a power grid and a supportive community.
"A lot had to come together. We received a lot of support from the counties and local leaders," Copleman said. "Otherwise we wouldn't be building there."
The company has a huge investment in the project and plans to be around for a long time, he said.
"We're long-term investors and we're going to be neighbors for a long time," he said.
Initial news about the wind farm didn't sit well with everyone, Dudgeon admitted.
"We received calls both ways," he said. "But the proponents far outweighed the opponents. We're a changing society, things are going to look different, and people will get used to it after awhile."
Dudgeon, in his 10th year as commissioner, recalled strong opposition from one township trustee.
"It could have really stopped the process; the project may or may not have continued," he said, adding trustees eventually left the decision in the commissioners' hands.

Blue Creek Wind Farm:
Location: Van Wert and Paulding counties
Owner: Heartland Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables.
Iberdrola Renewables, based in Portland, Ore., is the second-largest wind energy operator in the U.S. with more than 40 renewable energy projects generating 3,800 megawatts of electricity. Their closest wind farms to the Grand Lake area are in Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Iberdrola Renewables is the U.S. division of Iberdrola Renovables of Spain, which produces more than 11,000 megawatts of renewable energy across 23 countries. The company has been in business for 107 years and employs more than 33,000 workers.
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