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Energy bill could slow demand for wind power

A Champaign County wind farm could have a tougher time selling its energy to power 50,000 homes if a state bill freezes Ohio’s alternative energy requirements, the project’s developer said.

But the bill’s proponents argue the state requirements that at least a quarter of all energy come from alternative sources by 2025 — called the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard — will lead to steep price increases for consumers and needs to be re-evaluated.

The Buckeye Wind Farm could still move forward if Senate Bill 310 passes, but the legislation would likely make renewable energy firms more cautious about investing in Ohio, said Mike Speerschneider, a spokesman for Everpower Renewables, the company in charge of the project.

Combined into two phases, the Buckeye Wind Farm would include about 100 turbines in Champaign County and is estimated to have a roughly $55 million economic impact on the local economy.

The renewable energy requirements approved by the state in 2008 have lead to job creation, Speerschneider said.

“It’s just kind of dumbfounding, I guess, that the senate and the legislature would be looking at basically pulling the rug on that,” he said.

The new bill would freeze Ohio’s alternative energy requirements at current levels, and create a legislative panel to determine whether any changes are needed. If no changes are made, the current rules would resume in 2017. Ohio’s senate approved the bill last week, and it now heads to the House.

Among other measures, the law requires that by 2025, at least 25 percent of all electricity sold in Ohio must come from alternative energy sources, and at least half of that must be generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

“I believe the evidence is clear that if we stay on the current program we’re on, it will drive up the costs for every consumer,” said state Rep. John Adams, a Republican whose 85th district includes Champaign County.

Adams said he voted in favor of the requirements in 2008, but has since changed his mind. Since the law initially passed, Ohio has seen prices for natural gas plummet, and the state has also seen a boom in investment from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

In the past five years, Adams said it’s become more clear that the mandates are becoming a burden on many businesses and will lead to higher energy costs that could particularly hurt low-income residents.

If anything, Adams argued he’d like Senate Bill 310 be tougher.

“I believe the freeze is appropriate,” Adams said. “I don’t believe it should be a temporary freeze.”

The Champaign County wind farm could still move forward if SB 310 passes, Speerschneider said. But without the mandates to purchase energy from renewable sources, it will be more difficult for Everpower to find potential buyers for their electricity.

“(It) does affect the prospects for demand for renewable energy projects, and finding appropriate buyers for the electricity that would be produced by the wind farm is one of the last major hurdles for the projects,” he said.

State Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. But a statement on his website says the mandates need to be reviewed.

“The well-intentioned strategy developed in 2008 to encourage alternative energy generation mandated levels which are now emerging as a challenge to job creation and Ohio’s economic recovery,” Faber said in a joint statement with Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “They are simply unrealistic and will drive up energy costs for job creators and consumers.”

Speerschneider argued the 2008 law has already resulted in millions of dollars in investment in Ohio. He agreed it makes sense to periodically review the mandates to make sure the law is working, but said it makes no sense to freeze the standards in the meantime.

“By freezing it first and then doing (the study), that’s sort of like exacting the sentence before you have the trial,” Speerschneider said.

Both phases of the wind farm have been approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board, but the second phase of the project has been appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Champaign County prosecutors filed their final written arguments to the court earlier this month, arguing Everpower wasn’t required to provide enough financial assurance they will be able to decommission the turbines once the project ends.

The county also argued the turbines will be set too close to homes in the county. They pointed to a manufacturer’s safety manual that stated an area of at least 1,300 feet should be evacuated and cordoned off in case of a fire or other emergency at one of the turbines. The current plan calls for setbacks to be 541 feet from a neighboring landowner’s property line and 919 feet from a neighboring home.

The county would be less concerned about the current setbacks if the turbine manufacturer that is eventually selected certifies that the shorter distances are safe, said Jane Napier, assistant Champaign County prosecutor.

Safety was a priority in the project, Speerschneider said, and the county’s request is unrealistic. He argued there is a difference between a permanent setback, and the amount of land law enforcement asks to cordon off in case of an emergency.

Both sides will likely argue before the Ohio Supreme Court in person later this year.

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