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Battle Brewing Over Proposed Wind Turbines in Western Ohio

The rush to harness wind energy in Ohio has spawned controversy along the ridges in western Ohio. Several wind energy companies want to build hundreds of giant turbines to generate electricity. But some property owners object.

Along the glacial ridge above the tiny community of Zanesfield in Logan County, Page Mays built a comfortable home in an idyllic setting.

"We went ahead and bought this property and built this house, figuring that we were going to see pretty much what we were going to see," Mays says. "But that ridge over there is where they want to put the wind turbines now. We didn't bargain for that."

Touted as the ultimate in clean energy, hundreds of wind turbines may be erected on these hills which are among the highest in the state of Ohio. But the Mayes worry about the effect on their property values, their way of life and their health.

"I think the wind turbine zoning regulations should protect adjacent property owners so there are no problems with noise, vibrations causing health issues or whatever in the future."

Some residents believe the turbines will be noisy; that they'll generate low frequency sound waves that will cause their health to deteriorate; that sunlight flickering through the blades during mornings and evenings will at the least be districting and at worst cause problems for epileptics. They want to be sure that towers are "set back" far enough from their property lines. The newly established setback regulations are inadequate, they say. Tom Stacy is head of the group Save Western Ohio.

"Unfortunately the State of Ohio is pretty enamored with the job creation potential for wind energy with some idea that it will offset coal burning," Stacy says. "Those forces seem to override the safety concerns that we brought forward.

A year ago Gov. Strickland announced his Energy, Jobs and Progress Plan. Under the plan, a minimum of 25 percent of the electricity sold in Ohio must be generated from advanced energy technology, including wind, by the year 2025. Half of that energy must be generated in Ohio. A day later the governor announced the awarding of $5 million to two wind farm projects - one of them in Logan and Champaign counties. Now yard signs have popped up all over Logan - some in favor of wind energy, many opposed.

"There are so many signs because there are so many rural, residential properties here and so many people who have made their lives out here in this area, to get away from urban sprawl, to embrace the agricultural community," says Stacy. "Understandably people with farms, if they can make more money with their farms in some way, they're going to go after it. Unfortunately it's created a lot of ill will between the residential and agricultural community out here."

Opponents say they're also worried about blades fragmenting and flying off, perhaps landing on their property. They cite cases where wind turbines have fallen over. They wonder if ice accumulations on blades will be thrown hundreds of feet. They worry about the environmental consequences: bird kills and habitat destruction.

But Rick Archer who's already leased his property to one of the wind farm projects says he's not worried about those disruptions.

"Blades coming off? Never heard of it. Noise? Definitely not an issue," says Archer.

Archer says he joined a group that toured an Illinois wind facility and came away impressed. He's not impressed with the arguments that wind turbines will spoil the ridgeline views.

"I also came out here for that same view. And I don't think it's going to hurt the view at all," Archer says. "If you look there's a cell phone tower right over in that direction. Those cell phone towers to me are uglier than a wind turbine and to me actually serve no purpose. We've got to do something about this oil. We're burning natural gas; we burn fuel to produce electricity when we can actually receive it not free but a lot cheaper."

The turbines may be about 500 feet tall - measured from their base to the top of the blade in its highest position. Current law prescribes that the setback from the property line should be at a minimum slightly longer than the turbine is tall. But the head of the Ohio Power Siting Board which has the final authority on where turbines can be built says each will be considered individually. Executive Director Kim Wissman:

"We believe that every single turbine is its own circumstance," Wissman says. "I mean, we will take a look at every single turbine and the circumstances surrounding every single one of those turbines and this is in fact a minimum and there may be circumstances where it is warranted that it be significantly more than that."

Wissman says she believes that wind turbines on the hills of western Ohio are inevitable. But she says there's no reason for the public to be alarmed about their safety.

"We'll do everything in our power to protect the citizens and certainly safety is one of our major concerns so that will be one of the things that we look at first and foremost," says Wissman.

The project director for Babcock and Brown's Logan County wind farm says it will contain between 40 and 60 windmills.

A 1.8 megawatt wind turbine can generate power for about 300 homes.