Ohio makes headway in efforts to harness windmill's energy
Sunday, March 13, 2005
One of four turbines on Ohio's only wind farm towers above Bowling Green Utilities Director Daryl Stockburger. The turbine is 30 stories tall, and the farm produces
A state with very little wind power is looking for more.
With a federal tax credit for wind-energy development expiring at the end of the year, Ohio has produced a wind map that pinpoints breezy areas and farmers and developers are talking about building wind farms that would far exceed the energy-generating capacity of the only one in the state.
Farmers near Bellefontaine, northwest of Columbus, are in talks with two developers in hopes that 25 to 30 windmills will go up in their back yards.
That would generate electricity for seven times as many homes as the current wind farm near Bowling Green and would put Ohio among the top 15 of the 30 states with commercial wind-energy farms.
Representatives of Midwest Wind Energy, of Chicago, and Gamesa USA, of Philadelphia, say they are interested in the Bellefontaine location.
"It takes a lot of effort for developers to get to the point they are at now," said Bill Teets, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Development. "It is something we think is a very real possibility."
Gamesa is also considering a wind farm in nearby Madison County; Midwest says it's looking at other areas of Ohio but won't say where.
Dale Arnold, director of energy development for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said farmers can get between $4,000 and $6,000 per acre to lease their land for wind farms. They also get royalties from the sale of the windgenerated power to electric companies, he said.
Ohio's only wind farm sprouted up just west of Bowling Green in 2003. The four windmills power turbines that produce 7.2 megawatts of electricity.
Ohio updated its wind map last year to show wind speeds around the state and how they differ with the topography.
Such maps are used by developers to determine where wind farms might generate enough electricity to make money.
In October, the state helped organize a wind-energy conference in Cleveland that attracted 250 developers, utility officials, farmers and homeowners.
William Spratley, executive director of Green Energy Ohio, an advocacy group for renewable energy, said the wind map coupled with the conference and interest from farmers has gotten the ball rolling.
"It's like the stars are aligning," he said.
Champions of wind power say it's a renewable energy source that can compete with fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas without the pollution.
Currently, 30 states have commercial wind farms, producing 6,740 megawatts of electricity, enough to serve 1.6 million homes.
The American Wind Energy Association expects more than 2,000 megawatts of wind-power capacity to be added this year.
American Electric Power, based in Columbus, has two wind farms in Texas that generate 310 megawatts and is looking to expand its use of wind power.
Spokesman Pat Hemlepp said the demand for electricity continues to climb, and many power plants that use coal or natural gas are nearing the end of their lifetimes. Environmental restrictions and expectations that natural-gas prices will remain high are incentives to develop wind power, he said.
However, the nation still gets just three-tenths of 1 percent of its electricity from wind, and the wind association predicts no more than 6 percent by 2020.
Development of wind power has been slowed by excess electrical capacity in parts of the country and difficulty getting wind power into the electrical grid because of transmission rules.
In addition, windmills can generate electricity only when the wind is blowing; environmentalists have raised concerns about birds and bats being killed by the windmill rotors; and some homeowners say the windmills - which stand 30 stories tall - mar scenic views.