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Carpe Ventum (Seize the Wind)

Ohio Wind Power. Photos | Bob Perkoski and Ben French
Ohio Wind Power. Photos | Bob Perkoski and Ben French

It takes more than high and steady breezes for a utility-scale wind power plant to make sound financial sense. Proximity to large population centers, a robust manufacturing industry, access to expertise in the areas of engineering and materials science, and a forward-thinking energy policy all are chief considerations when planning a large wind farm. Fortunately, these are all things Ohio (now) has in spades.

Despite that fact, and despite having some of the most promising wind potential east of the Mississippi, Ohio lags behind virtually every state in the nation when it comes to wind energy produced. For too long, wind power in Ohio has been a lofty but impractical goal a quixotic vision relegated to costly science projects on the Lake Erie shore.

Apart from a four-turbine complex in Bowling Green that generates a meager 7.2 megawatts and a giant wind turbine at Cleveland's North Coast Harbor, which supplies 7 percent of the Great Lakes Science Center's annual load -- there is absolutely nothing blowing.

But thanks to a combination of factors not the least of which is recently enacted legislation Ohio finally has reached the wind-power tipping point. Even the faintest breeze promises to send Ohio tumbling to the top of the renewable energy heap. Three separate land-based projects in Northwest Ohio, all approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board, are on track to deliver 500 megawatts of clean electricity, enough to power 150,000 homes. But wait, there's more! Four additional projects currently pending approval can raise that total to 1,250 megawatts fueling 375,000 homes.

Perhaps even more exciting is the prospect of wind turbines rising from the choppy waters of Lake Erie, Ohio's gustiest corridor. In late May, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) announced a long-term partnership with GE to develop wind power in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie -- the first freshwater offshore wind farm in the United States. The initial 20-megawatt wind farm is expected to be completed in late 2012 and followed by subsequent projects. The long-term goal: 1,000 megawatts by 2020.

The success of these initiatives could help transform Ohio's coastline into one of the largest off-shore wind markets in the world.

So, why here, why now?

Wind power is picking up in all areas of the country where suitable conditions exist. In fact, more megawatts of wind energy were added to the national grid in the past three years than in all previous years combined. After focusing on the low-hanging fruit in Texas and Iowa, wind developers are now fanning out to other areas of the country. With bountiful breezes, proximity to large populations, and the electricity transmission corridors to reach them, Ohio stood next in line. All it took to nudge the developers to come were some new laws.

When Governor Strickland signed Senate Bill 221 into law in May of 2008, he made Ohio's renewable portfolio standard the third-most aggressive in the United States. The law requires that by 2025, 12.5 percent of all electricity sold in the state must be generated by renewable sources such as wind and solar. Perhaps more significant, however, is Senate Bill 232, which Strickland signed into law on June 17 of this year.

"The legislation drastically reduced the tax liability for developers of wind farms," explains Christina Panoska, Energy Education Manager in the Ohio Energy Resources Division. Because the tax code was written decades ago based on conventional energy technologies, it made no distinction between a wind farm and coal-fired power plant. The new law, says Panoska, brings Ohio in line with neighboring states by dropping the per-megawatt tax from $40,000 to $9,000. And that $9,000 gets paid to local economies in lieu of taxes.

While improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions are both laudable goals, Ohio stands to receive more immediate benefits from wind power: money and jobs. According to the business coalition Wind and Solar Jobs for Ohio, the seven wind farms presently in motion will create approximately 1,000 immediate jobs, most going to in-state workers. Farmers and land owners will generate close to $10 million in annual lease payments for use of their land. And local schools and municipalities, many in Ohio's poorest counties, will net over $7 million per year.

Down the road, it's Ohio's manufacturers who stand to reap substantial rewards. All across the state, fabrication, machining and foundry shops are slowly but surely becoming essential cogs in the wind market supply chain. Tasked with helping manufacturers retool their facilities from dead or dying industries to wind, the Great Lakes Wind Network says that Ohio manufacturers have much to gain. "Over the next 20 years, turbine installations will continue to drive demand for thousands of new components, blades, and towers sets, and create the need for siting, engineering, construction, and installation services," notes director Ed Weston. "You've got a fascinating growth opportunity for companies seeking diversification."

One such company is Cardinal Fastener, a high-strength bolt manufacturer in Bedford Heights. In the past two years, Cardinal's wind-market business shot from 10 percent of its total volume to 50 percent. Similarly, WebCore, a Miamisburg-based manufacturer of structural core material for military and maritime applications, is pursuing "greener" pastures. It has developed a lightweight fiber-reinforced composite ideal for use in wind turbine blades. All told, Ohio stands to gain an estimated 30,000 new jobs by 2030 thanks to the renewable energy market both in and out of state.

"Governor Strickland's vision is for Ohio to become a Hub of Excellence for the wind industry," says Ohio Energy Resources' Panoska. "If Ohio can get the first fresh water wind farm in Lake Erie, the industry will come, our universities will benefit, local manufacturing will follow, and global manufacturers will want to relocate to be close to source."

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