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Published: Sunday, 8/26/2007

Location is vital to plotting renewable energy strategy

Location, location, location.

More than just the mantra for upstart businesses and prospective home buyers, the art of siting needs to become ever so precise if Ohio is to create jobs and become more self-reliant with renewable energy.

Now that we're days away from getting Gov. Ted Strickland's much-anticipated energy plan, choosing the right location for a given technology is more obvious than ever.

Take wind power. On Thursday, Environment Ohio issued a report that claimed Ohio can create 3,100 jobs through wind power alone by 2020, plus add $3.7 billion to the state's salary base, $8.2 billion to its gross national product, and $1.5 billion in property tax revenue by then. All of that, the group said, could be done while supplementing the income of rural landowners by $200 million and avoiding tons of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas associated with global warming.

Sounds great, right?

Keep in mind Ohio won't harness every last gust of wind. No state will.

Still unresolved is the highly contentious wind-wildlife issue, one that has caused a rift in the environmental community. And Toledo is Ground Zero for the Great Lakes region.

Two major flyways cross over into northwest Ohio, where much of the state's land-based potential for wind power exists. Western Lake Erie, the shallowest part of the Great Lakes, is the region's optimum place to build offshore. But it's also the most ecologically fragile.

The powerful machines have to be installed where the payback is great, yet not in places that will embarrass the wind industry with massive avian kills.

Altamont Pass in northern California, one of the earliest wind farms, is the poster boy for bad siting. Blamed by the Government Accountability Office for thousands of raptor deaths, it now is essentially an outdoor laboratory for helping others learn from its mistakes.

"Clearly, there are many areas in Ohio that are not in a direct flyway and can be developed for wind energy," Amy Gomberg, Environment Ohio spokesman, said.

True. But the jury's out on where to build and at what height. Wildlife advocates demand more study, while the wind industry wants to move forward.

Clearly, we're headed for a New Ohio.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have a "renewable energy portfolio standard," a requirement for a more diversified energy mix. That's four more states than just three months ago. Some call for 20 percent of their state's energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. Environment Ohio wants Ohio to get that much from wind power alone.

The Strickland administration could propose an "advanced technology" program modeled after one in Pennsylvania. The governor's chief energy adviser, Mark Shanahan, has told me he was impressed by how Pennsylvania includes a component for clean-coal research.

Richard Stuebi of the Cleveland Foundation has told me that Ohio needed a standard to help East Toledo compete for the nation's first laboratory for testing offshore wind turbine blades. That $11.5 million project, now headed to Massachusetts or Texas, is expected to create a number of jobs by enticing manufacturers and suppliers to locate near it.

That can't happen again if the Strickland administration is serious about using renewable energy to address our needs and create jobs.

Don't expect anything as ambitious as what Environment Ohio wants for wind. But demand something innovative.



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