COLUMBUS — Ohio State University expects to save nearly $1 million on its energy bill this year with the help of more than 100 spinning wind turbines in northwest Ohio.
Ohio State signed a 20-year agreement in October to buy 50 megawatts of energy annually from Blue Creek Wind Farm, Ohio’s largest commercial wind farm, which has 152 turbines in Van Wert and Paulding counties.
A megawatt of electricity can light about 300 homes. Fifty megawatts are enough to power about a quarter of the Columbus campus.
“Together, we will make Ohio State a national leader in sustainability, while investing in renewable energy produced right here in Ohio,” President E. Gordon Gee said when the deal was signed.
The contract will help the university reach its goal of becoming carbon neutral.
Ohio State employs more than 400 researchers on energy issues, and energy was recently named one of three priority focus areas for universitywide teaching, research, and community outreach over the next 10 years.
Ohio State had long been interested in using more renewable energy, but it cost too much until now, said Scott Potter, OSU’s senior energy adviser.
“We were willing to pay a premium for clean energy, but we still had to be good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.”
The university has been spending about $35 million a year for enough electricity to power a city the size of Westerville, Mr. Potter said.
Blue Creek is equally pleased.
“This is the largest university purchase of wind power in our company’s history, and we look forward to a long and fruitful partnership,” said Barrett Stambler, a vice president with Iberdrola Renewables, which owns Blue Creek.
Wind farms began popping up nationwide after the federal government started offering a tax credit equal to 2.2 percent of each kilowatt-hour a wind farm generates. The tax break expired at the end of last year, but a one-year extension was part of the last-minute tax bill that Congress enacted.
“No one was interested in Ohio until recently because they thought we didn’t have enough wind,” Mr. Potter said. “We do have wind. It’s just a lot higher.”
Blue Creek started generating power in June. At a total height of 476 feet, its turbines are taller than the Statue of Liberty; they also have blades that have a larger radius than the wingspan of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, Mr. Potter said.
Instead of just buying renewable-energy credits, as most other nonutility companies do, Ohio State is buying wind energy directly from Iberdrola and contracting with American Electric Power to deliver it.
The university has negotiated a price of $46.50 a megawatt, plus a 2 percent annual increase, Mr. Potter said. The school expects to save about $1 million in energy costs for each of the next two years.
In a first-of-its-kind provision, OSU researchers will have access to Blue Creek Wind Farm, and to market data from the company, for their research, he said.
Mr. Potter said Ohio State already is the only U.S. university studying all areas of wind energy, including gear, rotor-blade, and turbine design; wind modeling; noise optimization, and ecological, environmental, and policy concerns.
Wind is one of the most-environmentally friendly alternative-energy sources available, said Jose M. Castro, an OSU industrial and systems-engineering professor.
But to compare favorably with the cost of more-traditional energy-generation methods, the turbines need longer blades, Mr. Castro said.
He and his graduate students have been trying to improve blades’ strength and performance by using glass-reinforced nanocomposite materials and nanopapers. Icing of the turbines poses a significant threat.
“It makes sense to do this kind of research, given the national-security concerns related to production of oil in unsafe areas of the world, and for the well-being of our environment,” Mr. Castro said.
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