Saturday, February 26th, 2011
Deciphering the spin
Wind company pursuing land leases; many still oppose turbines
By Shelley Grieshop
ST. HENRY - Jerry and Mary Lou May hope to someday look out their window and see wind turbine blades spinning.
The couple believe their farmland along Lange Road could help Ohio and the rest of the country produce the alternative energy the government seeks.
"They're trying to find different kinds of energy ... I believe it's something that needs to be looked into," Jerry May said.
The Mays have joined at least 10 other local families who have signed land leases with Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources.
The contracts grant NextEra access to approximately 1,500 acres of land in Granville, Recovery and Marion townships in Mercer County and Jackson Township in Auglaize County. The largest single plot of land is nearly 270 acres in Recovery Township.
The company proposes to build a 100-megawatt wind farm with 40 to 70 turbines in southern Mercer and Auglaize counties. Scott Scovill, director of wind development for NextEra, said construction could begin as early as 2012, but no timeline has been set.
The idea of large wind turbines sprouting up across the rural landscape has created much controversy among families and friends in the small, farming communities.
May said he's not received any backlash for his decision.
"I haven't had any problems with it, so far. I know some are against it ... and I respect that," he said.
Two other St. Henry-area farmers who signed contracts with NextEra are having second thoughts.
"Had we known there was going to be a big stink over this in St. Henry, we would never have signed it," Linda Thieman said.
Thieman and her husband, Dan, have given the company access to 158 acres. They thought they were doing the right thing, Linda Thieman said.
"The reason we signed it was because we thought we were doing something that was going to better the area as well as make something better for future generations to come," she said.
The other family who spoke to the Daily Standard leased 120 acres along Carthagena Road but said they've changed their mind. They requested their name not be used for the story.
Signs of protest against turbines have sprouted in yards in many communities and a group of people calling themselves Citizens Against Turbines continues to voice their opinion at town hall meetings.
CAT members - who say wind turbines should not be erected near populated areas - fear a wind farm will decrease property values and cause noise and shadow flicker issues.
They also believe turbines would have a negative impact on the Land of the Cross Tipped Churches - a local tourist attraction of historical landmarks included on the National Register of Historic Places.
NextEra officials admit they've faced strong opposition in the area.
"They've been a little more vocal here," Scovill said.
Scovill said the company often encounters such concerns and believes a lot of resistance is based on misinformation.
"There are a lot of fears of the unknown, and it's our responsibility to educate the communities," he said during a recent interview with The Daily Standard. "We're not going to put a wind turbine in a school yard."
Scovill said the project would be an economic boost for the area.
"Most landowners look at it as a good investment," he said.
Mary Wells, a media relations representative for NextEra, said it's not the company's goal to persuade people on the issue.
"By and large we can help people with their concerns," she said. "But that doesn't mean we can make everybody happy."
When questioned for details about the project, Scovill, Wells and project manager Paul Dockery were vague. They explained there is no set number of acres they intend to lease before applying to the Ohio Power Siting Board - the regulatory committee that must approve each wind farm project before it can proceed.
Dockery did note that approximately 2,400 acres would be needed to erect 40 wind turbines. However, many factors can alter those figures such as requirements for setbacks from buildings, he said.
Dockery gave examples of turbine heights the company could choose but said it was too early to state what size would be built locally.
NextEra operates 85 wind projects in 17 states and Canada and is the largest retail alternative energy provider in the U.S. The company boasts a 30 percent share of the renewable energy market.
Scovill, Wells and Dockery said the local project has been in the works for more than a year. But that doesn't mean they wouldn't walk away if plans fall through, Dockery said.
"Things could fall apart," he said, adding the company also is considering wind farm projects in other communities throughout Ohio.
The company is still working to complete environmental studies, wind speed tests and other necessary steps, the representatives said.
If the project moves forward, the company would employ about 150 people at the peak of construction. Only eight skilled workers would be needed after the wind farm is in operation, Dockery said.
Two other companies involved in the wind energy market - Clipper of California and Invenergy of Chicago, Ill. - independently have secured at least 14 local land contracts involving more than 600 acres.
Most of those contracts involve leases for easement rights, which could allow the land to be used for such purposes as electric substations or to bury and/or extend power lines.
NextEra officials told The Daily Standard their company is not associated with Clipper or Invenergy.
What: Open house hosted by wind energy developer, NextEra
When: 4:30-7:30 p.m., Thursday
Where: Romer's Entertainment Facilities, 321 S. Eastern Ave., St. Henry
Details: Area residents are invited to meet the NextEra staff and discuss the proposed wind farm in Mercer and Auglaize counties. Refreshments will be served.
In the event of inclement weather, call 419-464-9461 for further information.