Attention, class: A reality check in wind energy

Huron High School students recently learned about wind energy sponsored by Apex Clean Energy. Learning about wind energy is important — especially for those living in Sandusky, Erie, Huron and Seneca counties, where Apex Clean Energy is proposing to expand.

It’s not a new idea. Wind energy companies have been collecting “lease holder contracts” and “good neighbor” agreements in the area for nine years. You might ask, what is a “good neighbor” agreement? Good question! Let’s review that.

A “good neighbor agreement typically pays a $500 signing bonus and $500 per year, but the signer must waive the right to file a claim for damages related to any of the stated “effects,” which in the contract is worded as an “effect easement.” The signer also agrees to a “setback easement,” which states the turbine can be located anywhere on the adjacent property, even closer than what the current state setback rule specifies. The contract also includes a confidentiality clause where the signer cannot disclose the terms of the agreement to anyone. What is there to hide you might ask? Good question! Let’s review that.

The defined “effects” as stated in the agreement include “audio, visual, light, shadow flicker, vibration, air turbulence, wake, electromagnetic, ice, or other weather created hazards or other effects of any kind whatsoever resulting directly or indirectly from the operation of the wind farm. …” So, you might say, certainly Ohio has safe setbacks established. Setbacks should be determined by evidence-based research, best-practice standards in surrounding states and the equipment manual safety guidelines from the turbine manufacturers. Good point! Let’s review that.

The turbines being proposed by Apex Clean Energy for our four-county region will be nearly 600-feet high, with a blade diameter of 445 feet. These will be the tallest turbines in the state. The Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point (420 feet) will pale in comparison to these massive turbines which, by the way, will be only 650 feet from our roadways. Where turbines more than 500 feet high have been placed in other states, there have been large areas where Life Flight cannot be called in, due to the possible air turbulence they create. Will these turbines be a safe distance for public safety in other areas? Good question class! Let’s review that.

Current Ohio setback regulations require that wind turbines be at least 1,150 feet from a property line. These massive turbines will be located at least 1,150 feet from the property line of places such as schools, parks, nature preserves and homes, just to name a some. Surrounding states with experience in hosting these massive turbines have much higher setbacks to ensure public safety. Our area has numerous buzzards, hawks, cranes, swans, geese and even eagles which will become projectiles in the debris field of these turbines. What happens when a massive turbine throws a buzzard onto a park where a child is playing or through a school bus window? Setting these massive machines so close to roadways and other public spaces is a serious public hazard. A 300-foot turbine can throw debris 1,700 feet. So this begs the question: How far can a nearly 600-foot turbine throw debris?

This is a serious public hazard. No one could possibly survive being hit with chunks of ice through their car windshields in the winter. There are news articles of everything from ice throws, broken turbine blades to birds and bats being thrown long distances from these turbines. The higher the turbine, the further they can throw debris. But what about the turbine manufacturer safety guidelines; can we find safe setback data there? Good question class! Let’s review that.

Recently at the monthly Seneca County commissioners meeting, the Apex Clean Energy representative was pressed to release safety data from the manufacturer guidelines of the turbines being proposed for Seneca County in the Republic Wind Project. He stated that information could not be released as it was “proprietary information.” That’s correct, class. The Apex representative told the crowd, many of which were worried about the safety of having these massive machines in close proximity to habitable structures, that essentially the safety setbacks in the manufacturer guidelines were a trade secret. Whew, that vital information certainly made the crowd feel better! Well, you might ask, given these are the most massive turbines ever proposed for such densely populated areas of Ohio, certainly the state must be looking into the safety of our current setbacks. Good point class! Let’s review that.

Currently, Senate Bill 238 is moving through the Ohio Senate. It’s not being reviewed by a public transportation and safety committee. It is under review by the energy and natural resource committee. SB 238 further will reduce Ohio setbacks for industrial turbines to unheard of levels. SB 238 proposes to place turbines either 1,250 feet from a habitable structure or 1.2 times the turbine height from a property line. That will put a 591-foot turbine with a blade diameter of 445 feet, which moves in wind speeds in excess of 70 mph, just 710 feet from parks, nature preserves, bike paths, schools and homes. Well, you might ask, surely this legislation will force the wind company to at least follow the turbine’s manufacturing guidelines for safety setbacks in proposed Ohio projects. Sorry, class, but that information will remain a trade secret in this proposed legislation.

And, class, if you’d like to take a field trip to see and hear for yourself, check out the Hog Creek Wind Farm near Dunkirk, Ohio, or Blue Creek Wind Farm near Van Wert, bearing in mind the proposed turbines in our area will be nearly 200 feet taller than those. Now let’s do your homework. Call your state senator or House representative and ask them how evidence-based research, best-practice standards in surrounding states and the equipment manual safety guidelines from the turbine manufacturers will be used in determining turbine setbacks in Ohio. Ask your county commissioners what other zoning requires a setback from a habitable structure on someone else’s property rather than the property line (SB 238). Go to the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition Inc. webpage or Facebook page to see how other states are working together to create regulations based on safety and not money alone to safely site massive industrial turbines. Explore how utility rates have been affected in other states that have heavily invested in intermittent diluted wind energy sources. Ask yourself, class, how much money will it take to justify sacrificing public safety? Please send your essays as letters to the editor.

Congratulations, class, you have just completed a lesson in Ohio wind energy. For more great lessons in Ohio’s wind energy, come out to the Seneca Anti-Wind Union presentation at the Attica Fairground Entertainment Hall at 7 p.m. May 31.

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