Friday, April 12th, 2013

Wind farm project up in the air

Energy company looking to sell its turbine projects

By Amy Kronenberger
Future industrial wind farm development in Mercer County is getting turbulent as BP America announced it will sell its wind energy division.
BP spokesman Matt Hartwig said the Great Britain-based company decided to sell its American wind division "as part of a continuing effort to become a more focused oil and gas company and reposition the company for sustainable growth into the future."
The sale would include interests in 16 operating wind farms in nine states, as well as a portfolio of projects in various stages of development. One of the projects is the proposed Long Prairie Wind Farm that would build about 60 turbines in southern Van Wert County and five to seven in northern Mercer County.
BP has received 17 leases from landowners in northern Mercer County to construct the generators.
A buyer could accept the 17 leases and move forward, cancel the leases or renegotiate.
"That would be up to that company on where they go from there," Hartwig said. "It would be up to the new owner to decide whether to continue that project or go another direction."
Lease holder Royce High of Ohio City said BP officials have not notified him of their intention to sell. He said he wouldn't have a problem working with a new wind company and signing a new lease if necessary.
"Everybody's negative about (wind energy) and I have no idea why," he said. "We're going to have to do something to make our country more energy efficient. That's the reason I signed; I thought it would help the country."
John Gamble, a lease holder from Rockford, said he would be willing to work with a new company to continue the contract. He believes the project would bring a lot of revenue to the community.
"It seems like with almost any type of progress there are people opposed," he said. "Probably when they built the railroad through Rockford, there were people opposed."
Hartwig said the sale would be contingent on the offers. BP is the largest wind company in the U.S., he said, and if company owners are not happy with the offers, they won't sell.
Roy Thompson, co-chair of Neighbors United, a group of residents in northern Mercer County against the development of turbines, said his main concern is which company will have the highest bid.
He believes the two most likely companies are Iberdrola Energy, a Spanish company that owns the Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert and Paulding counties, or Horizon Wind, a subsidiary of a Portuguese company.
"(This would be) another giveaway of the $12 billion - 2013 budget funding - subsidy money to non-national corporations while we cut school and healthcare funding," Thompson said.
Lease holder Jerry Rolsten, Mendon, believes wind energy is a good investment. He said he's heard people complain about noise from turbines but couldn't hear anything when he visited the Blue Creek Wind Farm.
"You can go to that rest stop in Van Wert off (U.S.) 33 - there's one really close to that," he said. "I've never heard a sound from it. I think it's all hogwash."
Roger Brown, BP's business developer for Long Prairie Wind Farm, in December asked Mercer County Commissioners to consider forgoing taxes on the turbines for a payment from the company. The commissioners have not taken any action.
Commissioner Jerry Laffin on Wednesday said BP and Brown have not contacted them about the sale. He doesn't know what will happen if a new company approaches them.
"Our doors would be open to talk to them about the project, but it would be about the bottom line and we would cross that bridge when the time came," he said.
Hartwig said BP remains committed to alternative energy in America. The company continues to research new biofuel technologies and supports academic research in that area at various institutions.
Additional online story on this date
A closure hearing is slated for 3:30 p.m. Monday in Mercer County Juvenile Court on behalf of the man accused in the murders of Robert and Colleen Grube. [More]
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