Ohio a growing hub for wind energy

There has been a big push in recent years for the U.S. to become less dependent on oil and to develop newer and cleaner ways to produce renewable energy. The development of electricity-producing wind turbines is a step in that direction, and Ohio is at the forefront of the trend. Ideas & Voices editor Kevin Aldridge recently spoke with Jason Dagger, who is overseeing the Buckeye Wind Projects in Champaign County. Dagger talked about the project’s benefits and challenges, and the future of wind energy production.

Q What are the Buckeye Wind Projects?

A The Buckeye Wind Projects are two phases of commercial wind turbines to be installed in eastern Champaign County on an elevated glacial ridge. Each phase consists of approximately 50 wind turbines, each measuring 100 meters in height, with a combined investment of over $300 million.

Q What are the benefits of this project to Champaign County and the surrounding area?

A The total project will generate enough electricity for over 60,000 homes and provide approximately $1.5 million in taxes to four school districts, the county and townships. The projects will require over 250 construction workers and 10 to 15 full-time workers.

Q How do the turbines work to produce energy?

A The wind turbines generate electricity when the wind blows at about 3 to 4 mph. With regular maintenance, the turbines collect this energy from already-present winds in Champaign County to fuel energy needs without using nonrenewable sources.

Q When is the project scheduled to be completed? Is it on schedule? What have some challenges been?

A Construction on the projects will begin next year. Due to the discovery of an endangered species, EverPower completed a Habitat Conservation Plan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service that delayed the project about 12 months.

Q The project has drawn some criticism from residents who are concerned about safety, with the turbines being so close to homes, noise and property devaluation. How real are these concerns in your opinion?

A Safety has been the No. 1 priority when siting with regard to homes. We exceed all setback requirements and believe the project is sited very conservatively. Wind is one of the safest, nonpolluting forms of energy production that exists. To date, a member of the public has never been injured from a wind turbine.

Q Much has been said about this project producing green, renewable energy. Talk more about that and what it means?

A Wind energy is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and global warming. Electricity generation is the largest industrial source of air pollution in the U.S., and demand for energy produced from electricity continues to grow. Over 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide is generated by the electric power sector. Wind power generates no emissions and displaces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that would otherwise be emitted by fossil fuel-fired electric generation. One megawatt-hour (MWh) of wind energy produced reduces CO2 emissions by roughly 1,200 pounds. If the Buckeye Wind Projects utilize 2.0 turbines (still not determined), each turbine will produce over 6,000 MWh of electricity per year and reduce CO2 emissions by over 3,500 tons.

Q What is the future of wind energy, and can we expect to see more of these types of projects in the future?

A Ohio has very good wind resources for turbines with newer technology. Currently there are two operating wind farms in the state, and we anticipate following them with our own projects soon. Ohio was the fastest growing state for new installations in 2011, growing over 950 percent with the completion of the first utility-scale wind project in the state. The new and potential for more wind farms have made Ohio a growing hub for wind energy manufacturing. Many Ohio companies have already begun supplying to the wind energy industry. There are well over 50 companies currently manufacturing components for the wind energy industry in Ohio. The state’s wind industry currently supports 3,000 to 4,000 jobs, both directly and indirectly, including jobs in operations and maintenance, construction, manufacturing, and many support sectors.

Q Tell me a little bit about EverPower Wind Holdings.

A Founded in 2002, EverPower Wind Holdings Inc. is a New York-based developer of utility-grade wind energy projects with offices in New York City, Pittsburgh and Bellefontaine, Ohio. EverPower’s portfolio currently includes four commercially operational wind projects: the 62.5 MW Highland Wind Farm in Cambria County, Penn.; the 75 MW Highland North Wind Farm in Cambria County, Penn.; the 150 MW Mustang Hills Wind Farm in Tehachapi, Calif.; and the 52 MW Howard Wind Project in Steuben County, N.Y. EverPower has 17 projects in eight states in various stages of development, totaling more than 2,100 MWs. EverPower currently has three projects in the advanced development stage in Ohio. It is developing two projects – the Buckeye I Wind Farm and Buckeye II Wind Farm – in Champaign County and a third in Hardin County.

Q Wind is unpredictable, and therefore the availability of wind energy is fluctuating. How is wind technology advancing so it can enable us to harness stronger and more stable wind sources?

A Wind turbines are advancing every day. The power industry realizes that the biggest challenge to power generation is the cost of the fuel source. Wind is a way to realize a consistent fuel source that’s free, once past the initial investment. On a per-megawatt basis, wind is the cheapest form of new energy generation.