The Ohio Supreme Court boosted the state's energy future this month when it enabled a proposed wind farm between Columbus and Dayton to proceed. The ruling, albeit on a narrow 4-3 vote, takes another step toward needed diversification of energy sources in Ohio.
Buckeye Wind LLC plans a 70-unit wind farm on 9,000 acres of leased property in Champaign County. The Supreme Court affirmed the Ohio Power Siting Board's due diligence in its review of the project application.
Given its large industrial base, Ohio ranks fourth among states in energy consumption. It relies too much on coal-fired and nuclear power, which are among the greatest recipients of government subsidies and tax credits. Diversification of energy sources would enhance the state's economic security.
Wind power is America's fastest-growing form of energy production. Wind farms usually involve 50 or more utility-scale turbines. Some turbines are nearly 500 feet tall -- 80 feet taller than downtown Toledo's highest building. The Buckeye Wind turbines would be 25 percent taller than the four turbines American Municipal Power installed in the Wood County landfill southwest of Bowling Green in 2003 and 2004.
Ohio's advanced-energy law properly requires at least 12.5 percent of the state's electricity to be generated by wind, solar, biomass, and other renewable sources by 2025. The state's largest solar energy project, the 84-acre PSEG Wyandot Solar Farm near Upper Sandusky, includes 159,200 solar panels made by First Solar.
Pursuing alternative-energy options will create losers as well as winners, and will involve trade-offs. The wind industry survived northern California's horribly sited Altamont Pass project, which killed thousands of raptors in the 1980s.
The industry's current development plans take into account such issues as the flyways near western Lake Erie's fragile shoreline. Through experience, renewable-energy industries should learn from their mistakes and improve, just as other forms of energy production did.
So the vitriol expressed by Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer in his dissent from the majority opinion in the Buckeye Wind case is distressing. He asked mockingly: "How many windmills does it take to power a light bulb? As many as the government will subsidize."
Utility-scale wind turbines, he wrote, will become white elephants, monuments "to our quixotic quest for alternative energy." Such projects, he said, "will go the way of the leisure suit: fashionable for a time, but ultimately causing us to say, 'What were we thinking?' "
What we're thinking is more in the nature of a wish: that sentiments such as those Justice Pfeifer expressed do not get in the way of Ohio's quest for greater energy independence.