Flowers of the future bloom in Ohio
By Erin Cox
The flowers of the future.
A 257-foot tall stem with three white petals spinning round in the wind and a generator in the center. The wind is strong today and the only noise that can be heard besides the rustling of the wind is the cars passing on a nearby road. Four wind turbines stand along the landfill on the edge of Bowling Green, Ohio. They are the first of many wind turbines that have popped up around the state.
Don Scherer of Green Energy Ohio helped get the wind turbines installed in Bowling Green in 2003 and 2004. He assisted in conducting the initial wind assessment of the area to see if the area’s wind was profitable as an energy source.
“It was a big deal then, but now they’re very small in the scale of what’s being done,” Scherer said.
Bowling Green’s four wind turbines put the city ahead of the rest of the state in 2003. According to Scherer, Daryl Stockberger, the Bowling Green Utilities Director during that time, took the initiative to make Bowling Green greener. Stockberger led the push to install the wind turbines, but now the city’s four turbines look small in comparison to the other wind farms being built around the state.
Ohio’s Renewable and Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard, a 2009 state law also known as Senate Bill 221, requires Ohio’s electric distribution utilities and electric service companies to generate 25 percent of their electricity sold from alternative energy sources. At least 12.5 percent of this must come from renewable energy resources, such as wind, and at least 0.5 percent from solar. The other 12.5 percent can come from other advanced energy resources. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website, advanced energy resources are any energy-making processes that do not produce any extra carbon dioxide, such as nuclear power and clean coal. Half of the renewable energy these companies generate must come from Ohio and that has led to the development of wind farms throughout the state.
Emily Sautter, Wind Program Manager for Green Energy Ohio, said that Ohio’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard has created a demand for wind energy in some portions of the state.
“The wind farms have to be in a good wind spot so folks can get reasonable payback for their investment,” Sautter said. “Southern Ohio doesn’t have the best wind, so they probably won’t see as many wind farms pop up around that area. But in 2003 and 2004, Bowling Green worked with Green Energy Ohio to do a resource assessment and found that it would be a good spot for wind turbines.”
Bowling Green’s Utilities Director Brian O’Connell said the project cost several millions of dollars, which the city had to borrow to purchase the turbines. The city then entered a payback period where the money it made from the wind turbines would go to pay off the debt.
According to Scherer, Bowling Green’s wind turbines were bought with the idea that they would be paid off in 15 years from the energy produced. After paying off the cost of the turbines and building them, then the energy produced will be at its cheapest amount to buy.
Sautter said Bowling Green’s four wind turbines have performed at or above the expected amount of energy production.
Scherer also said Bowling Green’s wind turbines are ahead of the scheduled production. The wind turbines produce energy at capacity when the wind speed is between 19 and 33 miles per hour. The blades will turn at winds of three miles per hour, but the generator does not gage the rotation of the turbines until winds reach nine miles per hour. Currently the wind turbines are performing at an average of 25 percent capacity meaning a combined total of 1.8 megawatts of energy are produced an hour by the four wind turbines.
“Winds tend to pick up during the fall and intensify during the winter and stay strong until the end of May into June,” Scherer said. “Summertime sees the lowest productivity with 10 percent of production being done in the summer.”
Scherer said the initial wind assessment was conservative for financial reasons.
“You don’t want to overestimate the wind when it is such a large-scale financial investment,” Scherer said. “The wind was going to be good enough so at that point, you get into the next round of decisions, which is finding a site where a group of turbines can sit without blocking each others’ wind.”
Bowling Green’s municipal utilities is part of American Municipal Power, which is not one of the for-profit energy distribution companies that have to meet the Senate Bill 221 standards. As a nonprofit company, A.M.P. gets credit for the renewable energy it produces with the four wind turbines. Scherer said that if A.M.P wanted to, it could sell their credit to the mandated energy companies in Ohio to allow them to have that credit applied to their renewable energy resource requirement.
About 80 miles southwest of Bowling Green, along the county lines of Paulding and Van Wert, Ohio, the flowers of the future have become more like a field of corn. The wind turbines, 214 in total, scatter the fields of the area. Blue Creek Wind Farm operates 159 wind turbines built by Iberdrola Renewables, and the other 55 were built by Horizon Wind energy.
From four wind turbines sitting alongside Bowling Green’s landfill to now 214 wind turbines scattered throughout hundreds of acres of farmland, this is the look of the future of northwest Ohio.
Each of Blue Creek’s 152 wind turbines in Van Wert stands at 328 feet tall with a 148-foot long blade. People can catch a glimpse of the turbines spinning from miles away.
But, the massiveness of the turbines doesn’t have to be viewed only from far away. U.S. 30 runs alongside the wind farm all the way to the Indiana state line. Multiple turbines sit close to the road, giving drivers an easy distraction as they drive on the highway.
While some turbines stand in lines of five or six, others seem to have just popped up randomly in the middle of a field or in the backyard of a family’s home.
The drive that use to take forever with empty, dead fields during the winter, now seems to end too quickly as the wind turbines cause a hypnotic effect with the amazing expanse they cover.
O’Connell said that in 2010 Bowling Green already had 25 percent of its energy coming from renewable energy sources, only part of that was from wind. O’Connell said that he expects in 2015 the city to get 35 percent of its energy from renewable resources.
Bowling Green receives half of the energy from the wind turbines, and the other half goes to nine other communities who are part owners of the wind turbines.
According to O’Connell, the problem with wind energy in Ohio is that they are only performing at 25 percent of total capacity where as a coal plant produces energy at 90 percent of their capacity the majority of the time.
“With wind power, you can’t guarantee that wind will be there,” O’Connell said. “You have to realize that there’s a reduced capacity factor with wind power whereas with other energy sources, it can pretty much be guaranteed to generate a certain amount of energy.”
Not all wind turbines provide energy for the people of the county in which they are built though.
According to Sautter, the energy produced from the wind farm in Van Wert is disbursed to FirstEnergy customers. Iberdrola, the company that built Blue Creek Wind Farms in Van Wert, made a power purchase agreement with FirstEnergy giving it the ownership of the energy produced.
According to the Ohio Power Siting Board, Ohio has certified 662 wind turbines throughout the state with another 275 pending certification. This means the state can expect to have 937 wind turbines.
Stuart Siegfried of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission said the energy companies have been doing well so far. Each year has a benchmark that the companies must meet. It increases annually to make sure the company is on track to meeting the requirements of Senate Bill 221.
Scherer said that what made it easier for places like Kansas and the Dakotas, which has numerous wind farms across the state, is that the average farmer owns more farmland.
“The wind farms that are going up in Ohio spread across multiple farmer’s land,” Scherer said. “Many farmers have to agree and it’s a complicated dynamic to figure out how to get all the people to agree to give up some land for these.”
According to Scherer, the Ohio Farm Bureau has an employee, who is involved with Green Energy Ohio, to educate the farmers about the wind turbines and how little problems they cause.
According to Siegfried, 25 other states have a similar portfolio standard as Ohio does.
“Things have been looking good on the non-solar side. On the solar side, some companies have had problems with supply constraints,” Siegfried said.
Chad Smith, Deputy Chief of the Office of Energy in the Ohio Department of Development said while there has been an increase in wind farms in Ohio, Ohio’s main contribution to wind energy is the manufacturing of parts for the wind turbines.
If an energy distribution company does not make the benchmarks for the year, it has to give reasons for it. Seigfried said that if they have justifiable reasons, it can be excused, but the difference may be added on to the next year’s benchmark. Without justifiable reasons, the company will face some sort of fine or compliance payment.
Red flashing lights. As far as the eye can see, red flashing lights fill the night at the wind farms in Van Wert and Paulding.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the wind farms have synchronized the red lights of the hundreds of turbines so that planes can identify and avoid the wind turbines. The effect is entrancing.
Without knowing that the red lights sit on top of the wind turbines, passersby driving on the highway might have no clue as to what they belong.
The four in Bowling Green might be mistaken as radio towers, but the two hundred expanding across hundreds of acres of farmland, seems impossible to mistake as radio towers. Perhaps some day wind turbines will be the norm, the expected, and easily detectible at night by their synchronized, captivating red lights.
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