Monday, July 28th, 2014
By Kathy Thompson
Wind farm could be knocked flat by new regs
  Stricter setback regulations approved in June could foil proposed plans for a wind turbine project that stretches into northern Mercer County.
Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 483 in June, which includes a revision requiring wind turbines to be erected 1,300 feet from the nearest property line. The law previously required turbines to be placed 1,300 feet from a structure and about 550 feet from a neighboring property line.
The proposed Long Prairie wind farm project involves about 300 landowners - 17 in Mercer County - who earlier leased property to BP America for the construction of 67 300-megawatt turbines. BP in May sold its 16 operating wind farms in nine states and its portfolio of planned projects to Apex Clean Energy Inc.
Apex president Mark Goodwin called HB 483 an "Ohio job killer." As it stands, the legislation would eliminate about $114 million in local spending, $15 million in lease payments to local landowners, $45 million in local tax revenue and $22.5 million in new payroll income for the area during the next 20 to 25 years, he said.
Goodwin sent a letter to Kasich soon after the legislation was signed, stating his company has "more wind energy development projects in the state than any other company" and claimed the bill would eliminate more than $3 billion in wind project investments.
Goodwin claims Apex may be forced to take its investment elsewhere. He is hoping the bill will be amended and his company can move ahead with the project.
"We have invested about $10 million in these projects, and we have tens of thousands of acres of private land leased with local landowners," Goodwin stated. "The setbacks will make it impossible for us to build these projects at all."
Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Kasich's office, said the setbacks were created to protect property value and human health.
"Every industry has rules and provisions," he said. "This office sees this industry as no different than any other."
Despite the setback issue, the company remains optimistic.
"We're very excited at this new prospect," said Scott Koziar, director of project development for Apex. "Clean energy is wanted in the nation. We know the transition has been a bit slow, but the project is one of several that we've acquired and we want to be open and transparent."
Koziar said the company is still in the process of contacting landowners and government officials about the buyout, but hope in the coming weeks to meet with commissioners in both counties and have formal conversations with landowners in the spring.
"We're at the very beginning of this," Koziar said. "Before we do a deep dive with owners and commissioners, we need to see what our next steps are, make sure we have all our environmental studies completed, look at the taxes schools would get, and what road and maintenance commitments we will be making."
Koziar said if the project kicks off this year or next, it could be completed by 2017 or 2018.
One of the landowners leasing property to Apex said he isn't happy about the new setback regulations.
"Good Lord," said Jerry Rolsten of Mendon, who has a contract to lease 186 acres of land to Apex. "That's a lot. I may not even be eligible if that's true. If I am, it's going to be real close. This could get interesting."
Rolsten said he "believes in progress" and that is why he decided to lease his land for the development of a wind farm.
Koziar said the proposed local wind farm would create 200 to 300 construction jobs and 15 to 18 long-term jobs. The wind turbines would generate electricity for 40,000 homes, he added.
"That's actual energy consumed within the area," Koziar said.  
Opponents claim the "flickers" or shadows cast by the blades, as well as the turbines' loud noise are annoying. They also note their presence decreases property values.
Van Wert resident Milo Shaffner, 67, said he hopes the proposed venture is abandoned. He lives about a mile from the operational Blue Creek wind project and farms within 600 feet of turbines.
"They are very unsightly to begin with," he said. "The sound they make is so disturbing, it sounds like a jet plane going overhead. My wife and I can't sit on our front porch and drink coffee in the mornings anymore."
Shaffner said his quality of life has "gone down the drain" since the turbines arrived.
"We used to have a great landscape to look at," he said. "Our roads are ruined, my neighbors have health issues. Those turbines are industry and this is supposed to be farm country. They don't belong here."
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