Can wind power and wildlife co-exist in northwest Ohio?
That debate won't be settled in this or in any other part of the country soon.
But starting Tuesday night, a series of five public outreach meetings begins that should at least give residents of Erie, Lorain, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Lucas counties a chance to speak up and learn more about the issue.
Right now, wind power is kind of like an unexpected gift: nice, but not something you can count on all the time.
Wind, like other forms of renewable energy, is not a baseload source of energy. Baseload sources are those, such as coal-fired or nuclear power, that can be relied upon 24 hours a day.
But wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy are filling a niche, helping to diversify the energy mix in a clean way.
Ohio has started harnessing wind in places it'd overlooked or dismissed as impractical at the turn of the century.
The state's four utility-scale turbines are in operation at the Wood County landfill west of Bowling Green. The Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland put up a wind turbine two years ago to reduce that facility's energy costs by 7 percent.
Despite those and a smattering of much smaller turbines that have been installed at various residences across the state, wind power needs to prove it doesn't kill too many birds and bats before it can take flight as an industry here - especially because two of North America's most important migratory bird flyways pass through northwest Ohio.
Hence the meetings. They're part of an effort called the Northwest Ohio Coastal Wind Initiative that the not-for-profit Green Energy Ohio is managing for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.
In 2006, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) secured a $1 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to have the wind-wildlife issue studied on Bowling Green State University's Firelands campus, the site of Tuesday's meeting. Plans are under way to install a wind turbine there for that purpose, with other area sites under consideration now, too.
Each meeting is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The dates and sites are:
Tuesday: Cedar Point Center Auditorium, BGSU's Firelands campus, One University Drive, Huron.
Wednesday: Lorain County Joint Vocational School, Lecture Room B, 15181 State Rt. 58, Oberlin.
Thursday: Community Resource Centre, Conference Room A & B, 8043 West State Rt. 163, Oak Harbor.
March 25: Terra Community College, Building B, Room B101/B102, 2380 Napoleon Rd., Fremont.
March 26: Toledo Zoo, Indoor Theater, 2700 Broadway, Toledo.
It's no coincidence these meetings are focused on Erie, Lorain, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Lucas counties.
The region's greatest wind potential is off the Great Lakes' shoreline.
The most attractive area for developers is western Lake Erie, because of its shallowness and proximity to the region's electrical grid. Putting up turbines in deeper, more remote water will drive up costs.
Wind is America's fastest-growing form of energy. It expanded an incredible 45 percent in capacity factor in 2007, yet accounts for less than 1 percent of the nation's power.
It has enormous growth potential, whether it's here, Texas, California, or the Plains states. Most issues surrounding it can be addressed with proper siting.
It's a great time to get in at the ground level. But also to raise the questions that need to be asked so that, if it's going to be done here, it's done right.