A LOT of wind and hot air are being expended in Wood County, all in the name of, well, wind. By now, most northwest Ohioans, at least those who live in the Bowling Green area or travel I-75, know about the four huge wind turbines a few miles west of the interstate at the Wood County landfill. These are massive structures that top out at nearly 400 feet from the base to the tip of the blades at their apex. They are visible for miles around.
They are located where they are because Wood County is a windy place, especially 300 to 400 feet above the ground. They also are achieving something very important. The four turbines have been generating electricity not only for Bowling Green but for nine other communities which are part of the project. Those towns are Napoleon, Edgerton, Pioneer, Montpelier, Monroeville, Elmore, Oberlin, Cuyahoga Falls, and Wadsworth. The turbines generate up to 7.2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1,800 homes. Every megawatt of wind-generated electricity is a megawatt that does not have to be produced from fossil fuels.
So encouraging has been the performance of the turbine project - known formally as Omega JV-6, or Ohio Municipal Electric Generating Agency, Joint Venture 6 - that the participating communities now want to build a larger wind farm, not at the landfill, which can't accommodate any more of the structures, but somewhere in rural Wood County at a site still to be determined.
The prospect has some residents in two rural townships, Plain and Liberty, upset. They don't want wind turbines anywhere near them, despite the greater public good sure to result. One spokesman who is leading a group of opponents told a public hearing that he believes a new wind farm would be "cruel, heartless, and callous" treatment of area residents who already see the first four turbines and might have to look at the new ones as well. He worries that he could become one of them.
Four wind turbines in Wood County produce enough electricity to power 1,800 homes.
Let me say first that although I disagree with the opponents' position, I understand it, even if the gentleman's assessment is a little over the top. It's human nature to invoke the NIMBY mantra ("Not In My Backyard"), and quite honestly, it's frequently a legitimate tactic. If I lived anywhere near a proposed site for one of those giant factory farms that threatened to pollute my water, foul my air, and attract flies by the millions, I'd stand in front of the first bulldozer.
But to somehow equate the harm of a wind farm with that of a mega-farm - well, I won't even use the old apples and oranges clich because that would be grossly unfair to the orange.
"Yes," the opponents might say, "but you don't have to live with these turbines, so you can sanctimoniously take the high road."
Au contraire. Sanctimonious I may be, but I do live with these turbines. I can see all four of them from my house. And I think they are wonderful. I check them every day to see if all four are spinning. Then I look at my electric bill again, and I smile. When startup and marketing costs and other expenses subside, the cost per kilowatt hour will come down significantly. And if a heavy tax is levied on carbon, as many expect, the cost of using coal to generate electricity will increase, widening the gap.
Like bans on smoking in public places, the push for alternative energy is relentless and it will inevitably succeed, if only because we have no choice.
AMP-Ohio, an organization of Ohio municipal utilities which includes the Omega project communities, insists it will not resort to eminent domain to force the project on a reluctant population and that property owners would have to agree to lease their land before a turbine could go up. I've seen public entities go back on their word before, but that sounds pretty straightforward to me.
Gov. Ted Strickland has challenged Ohio's electric utilities to invest heavily in renewable energy and meet a goal of generating 25 percent of the state's power needs from clean coal and nontraditional sources such as wind and solar power by 2025. Illinois, by the way, has already made 25 percent a goal by 2025 and will soon try to lock it into state law. Several other states are moving in the same direction.
The Ohio Department of Development has approved a $2 million grant for the proposed Wood County wind farm. If the project goes forward, it will produce 49.5 megawatts of power, enough electricity to meet the demands of 15,000 homes. And it will mean that 15,000 homes won't need electricity produced by conventional nonrenewable means.
Rejecting such projects, the governor said last month, "would be like saying to [Henry] Ford back in 1903, we shouldn't make cars because we have lots of really nice carriages."
Daryl Stockburger retired in 2005 as director of municipal utilities for the City of Bowling Green. He is the man most responsible for the four turbines already in place, a huge first step in his dream to make alternate energy conventional energy. I asked him why an expanded wind farm is so important.
"With fossil-fuel generation becoming more and more expensive," he said, "and with concerns about global warming and emissions, wind is one of the few resources we can 'mine' in our own backyard."
There's that word again - backyard. If the turbines go up in mine, I'm OK with it.