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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
The Blue Creek Wind Farm has become the largest taxpayer in Van Wert County, Ohio.

Wells to mull new wind plan

Apex has revised project first unveiled in 2010

The Journal Gazette

When Apex Wind Energy initially looked into developing a wind farm in Wells County, it talked about spending $336 million on a complex that would have 87 turbines.

That was in late December 2011. Next month during a plan commission public hearing, the Charlottesville, Va., company is expected to present new designs that include 100 turbines on more than double the original land area of 18,500 acres. The firm anticipates construction to begin by year’s end.

The project’s investment amount won’t increase because Apex intends to produce the same amount of energy, said Rob Propes, development manager for the company.

Wind farms entail grouping several turbines together to make the most efficient use of the wind. The turbines’ propellers produce energy by powering generators that create electricity. Unlike coal-produced electricity, there is no toxic emission, which makes the process environmentally friendly.

Apex acquired 23,000 acres from Wind Capital Group in March. The 200-megawatt farm will have enough power to handle 55,000 households – although commercial customers are the aim.

In recent years, a few companies have expressed interest in building wind farms in northern Indiana and surrounding areas, but municipal red tape, opposition from residents and a tough economy have proved obstacles, energy officials say.

With the only wind farm on tap in northeast Indiana, Apex wants to make good.

In Wells County, the company overcame initial public resistance by agreeing to higher standards for noise or decibel levels, increased setbacks for nonparticipating homes from 1,000 feet to 1,200 feet and created a comprehensive complaint procedure for noise and shadow flickers.

“We incorporated changes to respond to concerns,” Propes said. “As a result, we have fewer turbines than we could have had.”

The business still needs to secure customers for the energy it will produce, as well as get several permit approvals.

Apex, which says it will generate $17.1 million in property taxes over 25 years in Wells County, was formed in 2009 by a management team with wind energy experience. Last year, Apex constructed a wind farm in Canadian County, Okla. The 135-wind-turbine complex represented a $450 million investment.

Boston-based Atlantic Power Corp., a partner in the Oklahoma development, later bought the wind farm for an undisclosed sum.

Critics warn that the continuous low-frequency sounds wind farms emit have been linked to medical problems such as headaches, blurred vision and irritability.

Propes said the design concessions made by Apex address those concerns to a large degree.

“We will truly benefit the local community and boost economic development and offer a source of clean domestic renewable energy in Indiana,” he said. “Obviously, some people are opposed, but we feel they are a vocal minority.”

That wasn’t the case in Whitley County, where Wind Capital hoped to establish a wind farm but went about it the wrong way, said David Sewell, executive director of planning.

Before Whitley leaders could establish a wind farm ordinance, Wind Capital put up meteorological towers in 2010 in the southern part of the county and then set out to ink land-lease contracts with residents.

A meteorological tower gauges speed, frequency and temperature of winds.

“That made many people upset that they started that way,” Sewell said. “After we had an ordinance, they said it wouldn’t be economical for them to proceed.”

The ordinance required a half-mile separation between a nonparticipant’s property line and a wind turbine.

“That would have meant that basically everybody in the area would have to agree to it,” Sewell said. “That’s next to impossible.”

Tony Wyche, a spokesman for Wind Capital, said the company fully intended to invest in Whitley.

“We were developing a project in the area,” he said in an email.

“Because the zoning regulations necessary to move forward on the project failed to pass the County Commission, we ceased our activities.”

But there are success stories in the region. Iberdrola Renewables Inc. is an example of why wind farms take patience, though.

It took the Portland, Ore., company six years before it could establish its northwest Ohio facility last year in Van Wert and Paulding counties.

Blue Creek Wind Farm is a $600 million complex with 152 wind turbines, supplying energy to Ohio State University and utilities FirstEnergy Corp. and American Municipal Power.

During the wind farm’s construction, Iberdrola spent $25 million locally that benefited more than 30 Ohio companies.

Additionally, the alternative-energy firm will contribute $2 million in annual lease payments to landowners and $2.7 million a year to local taxing entities.

It is the largest taxpayer in Van Wert.

Blue Creek is spread across six townships in Ohio, has 60 employees and generates enough power for 76,000 Ohio homes. The wind farm has been operating for nearly a year, but the proposal got the green light in 2010.

Thad Lichtensteiger is chairman of the Van Wert Board of County Commissioners. He said Blue Creek was generally well received by resdients.

“There was a little bit of chirping in the beginning,” he said. “You always get with change or when something is new. Since they’ve been here, though, there have been minimal substantive issues with the operation of turbines.”

Propes believes Apex is on a faster track due in large part to the construction concessions made in Wells County.

Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said embracing residents’ concerns as part of the approval process is the best way to go.

“We expect that,” he said. “That’s par for the course.”