August 27, 2014

Elyria
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County tries to get ready for wind power opportunities

ELYRIA — The winds of change are coming, even if they may take a while getting here.

Some 75 people representing Lorain County cities, townships, energy providers, academia and other organizations met for two hours Wednesday to talk about the hurdles that need to be cleared by individual homeowners or cities before wind turbines can be erected.

With government officials setting a goal of generating 20 percent of the nation’s energy needs via wind turbines by the year 2030, there is “a monster capacity for jobs,” said Duncan Estep, a Lorain County Community College professor who teaches in a new associate’s degree program for wind turbine installation and maintenance.

Lorain County already ranks second in the state with some 1,500 new jobs in advanced energy technology, according to LCCC President Roy Church.

Just last month, the Northeast Ohio Technology Coalition announced a new jobs and economic development advanced energy technology program thanks to a $1.7 million grant from the Fund for Our Economic Future.

Cities and townships need legislation governing wind turbines that will help the region offer a united front when it comes to going after and landing wind turbine projects capable of creating lots of jobs, Mike Challender of the GLIDE/Lorain County Growth Partnership, said.

“We’re on the cusp of a new economy, and we need to get a step ahead of other areas of the country to put people back to work,” Challender said.

Among the topics discussed were the advisability of creating so-called free-fall zones for wind turbines that would provide enough land on all sides of the vertical towers so they would not damage land, homes or other structures should it come apart or topple.

Easements and variances would be required in most areas before homeowners or others could put up wind turbines, officials said.

With zoning boards, planning commissions, building departments and city councils all having a hand in the process, some estimated it could take 12 to 18 months to finalize a cohesive area-wide plan needed to secure major job-and-cash-producing wind turbine projects.

State-offered incentives, power company rebates for wind turbines, and substantial savings on home energy bills should spur the growth of residential turbines, Challender said.

Fears of high noise levels produced by wind turbines and potential catastrophes have helped give rise to the acronym “NIMBY” or “not in my backyard,” Estep said.

“People seem to agree this is a good thing but no one wants it near them,” he said.

Also, a number of townships have enacted moratoriums against wind turbine projects until more information and answers are forthcoming.

Estep said there have been problems — and he showed video footage of a spectacular fire and disintegration of a huge wind turbine.

He also mentioned a turbine blade that broke apart some time ago in Perkins Township in Erie County.

“Such failures are rare and tend to be over-hyped,” he said.

Cities along the Lake Erie shoreline including Avon Lake, Sheffield Lake and Vermilion face their own distinctive set of problems when it comes to the location, construction, operation and maintenance of wind turbines.

Sheffield Lake Law Director David Graves said lakefront cities face “a long and difficult process” in dealing with federal officials, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources over larger on- or off-shore wind turbines.

Sheffield Lake recently put up a pair of 45-foot wind turbines to help power the planned Sheffield Lake Town Center.
The wind turbines are expected to pay for themselves in seven years, Graves said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.