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Slow Start In Ohio For Wind Generated Electricity

Development of wind energy in Ohio is off to a slow start. Despite efforts to make energy production more sustainable, the state is home to only one utility scale wind farm. A plan for another larger project is being argued in the Ohio Supreme Court. Last Friday was a gray, rainy, blustery day across Northern Ohio. But the windy weather was being put to good use just outside Bowling Green by four giant electricity-generating wind turbines. The Bowling Green Wind Farm began producing electricity in 2003. The power it generates is divided between 10 communities. One of them is Bowling Green where Kevin Maynard is the city's director of utilities. "It generates something around 13 to 14 million kilowatt hours per year so that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,800 to 1,900 homes," Maynard says. "So it generates quite a little bit of electricity." Even so, the wind farm only supplies about 2 percent of Bowling Green's electricity usage. The feasibility for the wind farm was studied in the late 1990s by a group now known as Green Energy Ohio. Emily Sautter, the group's wind program manager, says that the Bowling Green wind farm still holds a unique distinction. "That is technically still our only utility scale wind farm," Sautter says. "There's four utility scale wind turbines rated at 1.8 megawatts each up there." Q: So why aren't there more. Other states have huge wind farms. Any idea why Ohio seems to be lagging behind? "Well Ohio's wind resource is really not that great. It's marginal but there are some areas in the state that do have a great wind resource. Those areas are some glacial ridges through northwest central Ohio, also in the west northwestern areas of the state those areas are a great wind resource. And also on the lake; the lake is actually the highest rated wind resource in the state," Sautter says. It seems, though, just to be a matter of time before other utility scale wind farms dot or blight the landscape, depending on your opinion. At the moment many wind developers are looking elsewhere where wind resources are greater. Again Kevin Maynard. "When you take a look at the wind resource in Ohio compared to Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, they have higher average wind speeds in general," Maynard says. "And if you can get more energy with the same capital investment then the cost of that energy is less." But a bill passed by the Ohio legislature a few years ago makes it likely that more wind energy will be produced here says Green Energy Ohio's Emily Sautter. "We believe that the industry is growing," Sautter says. "In 2008 the state passed legislation for renewable portfolio standards so that dictates that investor owned utilities have to get a percentage of power from renewable sources. So that really opened up the market in Ohio for utility scale wind. So there is actually a lot of development going on." "Wind is probably the most cost effective thing that we've got here in Ohio," Maynard says. "Solar is much more expensive so I think you'll see a lot more development of wind resources here in the state of Ohio." The Ohio Power Siting Board is handling a number of wind farm applications with the potential for hundreds of wind generators. One of the most contentious proposals, the Buckeye Wind Project, would construct up to 70 turbines. That application has been appealed to the state supreme court. "This is a display for the Northwind 100 and it shows right now we're somewhere around 10 miles an hour winds out there and also the total kilowatt hours we have saved," says Bob Gaunt, an employee at a Columbus car dealership. In Columbus there is one commercially operated wind turbine. It's at Byers Mazda Subaru at Sawmill and I-270. Inside visitors can monitor the turbine's performance on a computer display. Out back, Gaunt explains the dual power meter system. "It reads what we're producing and then our actual usage. And then our power generated is deducted from our usage," Gaunt says. George Kauffman is Vice President of Byers Automotive. He says installation of the turbine in Columbus and one at the company's Toyota dealership in Delaware has been a positive experience. "One thing people always ask me is, 'Well, you're a car dealer and it doesn't make sense.' The more I kind of looked at it, it actually makes perfect sense for us," Kauffman says. "We use a ton of electricity between our lot lights, our shop machinery equipment, there's constantly a ton of electrical usage." The Columbus turbine and the smaller Delaware generator don't produce enough electricity to power whole neighborhoods. But Kauffman says he expects the Columbus turbine to put a sizeable dent into the dealership's power bills. "From the numbers we've gotten so far we're predicating that it's going to be around a 25 to 30 percent savings off of our electrical bills," Kauffman says. And there's another Columbus area company testing the waters for wind energy. Worthington Industries recently announced it was partnering with a Spanish company to produce turbine towers in Cheyenne, Wyoming.