Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Winds of change

Winds are blowing across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. To some, they are ill winds. But approached with caution, they could become harbingers of good fortune.

Commercial wind farming is coming to the Lake Erie region. Three developers want to construct as many as 200 turbines that could tower above southwest Lenawee County. Five projects in Paulding, Van Wert, and Hardin counties could result in the construction of as many as 535 wind turbines.

The Michigan and Ohio wind farms could produce nearly 1,300 megawatts of clean energy — enough to power more than 1 million homes. That would reduce the region's reliance on power plants that depend on fossil fuels.

Advocates say the wind farms also would generate millions of dollars in lease payments to landowners, millions more in local taxes, and hundreds of temporary jobs and scores of permanent ones. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this economic boost.

But there are concerns. People who live near the proposed sites worry that the turbines, which can be nearly 500 feet tall, will be eyesores that will reduce property values. Others complain that noise and vibrations from turbines can disrupt sleep patterns, while the moving blades create an annoying strobe-like shadow effect on sunny days.

Nature groups are worried about the impact of turbines on migrating birds and monarch butterflies. Bats may fall victim to the whirling blades. Studies offer conflicting conclusions about the number of collisions between wildlife and wind turbines. Proper siting can address these concerns.

The need to increase clean-energy resources is clear. It should not be defeated by the cries of "not in my backyard" that often seem to underpin opposition to expanding wind farms.

Commercial-scale wind turbines are in service in more than 35 states, and are in wide use in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. A large and growing body of data can answer environmental and other concerns. Addressing those issues will be especially important as two companies seek property leases to build a wind farm on Lake Erie.

The shallow waters of western Lake Erie may be best suited for such a project. That area is a focal point of monarch butterflies and many migratory birds. Careful study will show whether the two competing uses can coexist.

Wind turbines that are sited without proper study could be disastrous for humans and wildlife alike. Appropriately and cautiously placed, though, they can make a significant contribution to the regional economy and environment.

If developers and communities proceed with care, they can leave knee-jerk detractors spitting in the wind.

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