Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Commissioners discuss wind turbine terms
By Amy Kronenberger
WAPAKONETA - Auglaize County Commissioners are trying to get informed about wind turbines after learning wind energy companies are talking to residents.
On Tuesday, John Leutz, a senior policy analyst for the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, presented commissioners and school officials with details regarding tax breaks and incentives for constructing wind turbines, while warning of the problems turbines could create.
Commissioner John Bergman said he thinks a wind company is in the process of talking to landowners in eastern and western Auglaize County, specifically along Minster-Fort Recovery Road, as possible turbine sites, but nothing is definite yet.
Leutz talked to the local officials about Senate Bill 232, which allows these companies to get tax exemption.
To become qualified, a company must submit an application with the Power Siting Board of the Department of Development. If approved, the company can then ask the county for a "preferential tax treatment," which allows them to make a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), Leutz said.
The community can say no, he said. However, the company then will decide if the cost of paying the taxes is worth doing without the incentives.
County commissioners have 30 days to approve or deny the exemption once the company receives approval from the Power Siting Board. Failure to act is considered a rejection. Commissioners can either consider each application on a case-by-case basis or pass a resolution declaring the county an "alternative energy zone," which gives blanket approval of all exemptions in the county, Leutz said.
If a county approves PILOT payments, the company must pay according to the number of Ohio residents they hire for the project. The fewer state residents hired, the more the company pays. This gives the company incentive to hire from within the state, Leutz said.
The company also makes a mandatory payment that is distributed to communities, specifically schools, based on the ratio of tax rates, Leutz said.
"So if a school district receives 20 of 30 total mills, it will receive 66 percent of the payment in addition to the mills paid by the property owner," he said.
Commissioners also can get an additional service payment, which commissioners may share with communities or put into the county's general fund, he said.
Despite the many incentives, Leutz also spoke of the cons that come with constructing these 300- to 500-foot tall turbines with a minimum of 150-foot blades.
Many people are concerned with flicker, noise, bird migration and landscape views, he said.
Leutz added that turbines only create four to five permanent jobs per 100 turbines, and no one knows how much electricity the turbines will actually produce. He said the turbines are expected to spin only 13 percent of the time in this area. No one knows if that will generate enough energy to make up for the cost.
Other concerns include tornadoes, new technology and maintenance, Leutz said.
If repairs are needed or new technology renders the turbines obsolete, will the companies have to pay for the dismantling and removal, or will they just sit unused across the landscape? What if a tornado hits a turbine, sending the 150-foot blades through the air like missiles? Legislators haven't thought that far ahead yet, he said.
"There's a lot of emotional energy being spent on both sides. People either love them or they hate them," Leutz said. "So one of the problems for all of you who have to be decision-makers is how do you cut through the emotions, how do you crunch the numbers and how do you make the value judgment from your standpoint - what works best for you guys?"
Commissioners now will wait for companies to come forward with Power Board Siting approval and will decide on each case according to what's best for residents and the area, Bergman said.
"It might come to nothing," Commissioner Doug Spencer said.
They might decide the area isn't a good choice and move on to another location, he added.
"Our personal feelings about these don't matter," he said. "It comes down to what's best for the school districts."