Michael Harrington / Sandusky Register Staff Reporter
BELLEVUE — The debate surrounding local wind energy pits neighbor against neighbor.
That’s what Chris Bauer, a Bellevue resident who is part of the Seneca Anti-Wind Union, said about the proposed plans for the Emerson Creek Wind Project in Erie and Huron counties.
“We moved up here two and half years ago and found out we had wind turbines going through our neighborhood … We got prepared, got educated and now we are here fighting the Emerson Creek Project in Huron County,” Bauer said.
The project, if approved, would see the construction of between 65 to 85 wind turbines in Erie and Huron counties. The union — an activist group opposing wind turbines in western Ohio — hosted a meeting Monday at the Bellevue VFW about possible negative effects.
“We all have one enemy in common, and it’s wind,” said Chris Zeman, one of the founders of the anti-wind group, to a packed room.
Zeman claimed people are left with land they can’t use after neighbors agreed to have a turbine placed on the edge of their property, away from their home.
“Now they are reaping all the money while you’re stuck with land you can’t do anything with,” Zeman said. “I’m all for property rights, but if it takes away my right for what I want to do with my land, then that becomes a property rights issue.”
But Natasha Montague, a spokeswoman for Apex Clean Energy, the company developing Emerson Creek, said turbines stopping a home from being built on a nonparticipating property is a myth.
“Any setback (required distance between a turbine and a home) is on the developer, a non-participating landowner is free to do whatever they want with their land,” Montague said. “Ohio has one of the largest setbacks in the country for nonparticipating houses. A turbine’s tip has to be at about a quarter mile from the property line.”
The group opposing the project asserts Apex has downplayed the negative effects turbines can have on nearby homes, including shadow flicker, the shadows caused by rotating turbine blades.
Apex claims most homes in the project won’t experience shadow flicker, and if they do, it would be for a short period — about 5 minutes a day — but Zeman said even 5 minutes of pulsating shadows into a home would be hard to get used to.
He also mentioned the possible health risks caused by the infrasound coming from turbines, which he claimed could cause vertigo and feelings of sickness, but Apex cites studies that have found no correlation between health issues and wind energy.
“They come out with these studies to refute what we say, but if we are so full of it, why are all of these testimonials the same across the world?” Zeman said.
Apex says the project would boost the local economy through property taxes. But Kevin Ledet, an anti-wind activist from Greenwich, disputed this since the Huron County commissioners granted a preliminary agreement for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for the project.
“It’s a set payment over the life of the project that doesn’t go up like taxes,” Ledet said. “I don’t think we should have given that bargaining chip away without getting something for the taxpayers.”
Apex claims the statistics they gathered on the region indicate the property tax wouldn’t increase enough to make a big difference and, in certain cases, they may pay more than what the regular property tax would permit.
“Those payments are consistent over the 30-year time span … the amount of money stays the same, but it would still outweigh the average property tax into the community and schools,” Montogue said. “With standard property taxes, there’s a depreciation in value-over-time just like with a car as it gets older the tax on it decreases. But with the turbines, we will pay the same amount.”
Before the Payment in Lieu of Taxes would go into effect, Apex has to receive project authorization from the Ohio Power Siting Board and the Ohio Department of Administrative Services.
The Erie County commissioners have made no such preliminary agreement with Apex. Commissioners Matt Old, Pat Shenigo and Steve Shoffner, who will replace Bill Monaghan in January, were at the meeting to listen.
“I have talked to Apex, but it was just to inform us about the project. They haven’t made any formal requests of us,” Old said.
Mark Shieldcastle, research director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory, also spoke at the event about the impact turbines can have on song bird and bat populations.
Montague said the turbines curtail during the migration periods for birds and bats and will even shut down completely if needed based on the recommendation of the state’s national reserve.
“Pollution in the air and water from coal factories have a much larger impact on the bird population than turbines,” Montague said.
Shieldcastle said the statistic that cats kill more birds than turbines is probably true, but the type of birds they affect is different and it was like comparing “apples to oranges.”
“It’s due to poor science,” Shieldcastle said. “There hasn’t been a proper study on the impact turbines can have wildlife.”
But Montague said Apex spent nine years, almost double the amount of time required by the state, studying the impact of the project on birds and other wildlife to ensure any negative effects were limited.
All three speakers encouraged people from the affected communities to become involved in the early stages and educate themselves on the issues.