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Winds of change blow across Ohio

Two years ago, 152 massive windmills at the Blue Creek Wind Farm started spinning, adding $5 million a year into our regional economy through landowner lease payments and local property taxes. The wind farm instantly solidified the agricultural and wind energy partnership in Van Wert County, allowing our farmers to harvest a new crop of electricity from the wind that seems to blow over their fields nearly endlessly.

In addition to growing that partnership, the Blue Creek Wind Farm, which is owned by Iberdrola Renewables LLC, provides an important boost to our non-agricultural business sector as well as the potential to offer larger manufacturers a clean and stable source of energy. As the president of the Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce, I can assure you that businesses everywhere are deeply concerned about the cost and security of energy. Communities that can secure clean, renewable energy at a fair price do much better in the never-ending attempt to attract new businesses.

The Blue Creek Wind Farm story is one that I’m eager to share as widely as possible. After all, in 2011, Blue Creek was the source of Ohio’s largest single private investment at $600 million. More than 665,000 labor hours went into building the wind farm with more than half of those hours going to Ohioans. For the next 20 years and longer, Blue Creek will employ 20 local people in highly skilled high-paying jobs.

Last week, I joined with dozens of local chamber executives and regional business leaders from 14 states at a roundtable hosted by the White House to share our experiences with clean energy development and energy efficiency.

Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, a national network of 370 local chambers of commerce, brought us to Washington to ensure that local chamber voices are heard as the country forges a new energy path.

Energy is one of the most important issues for our member companies. Reducing monthly utility bills gives our members the freedom to invest in growing their businesses. They can make capital investments that deliver for the long run or put additional resources into sales and marketing to find new customers for their products and services.

Another local company that champions energy efficiency is Van Wert Chamber member Cooper Farms, one of the largest family-owned turkey producers in the United States and home to the largest privately owned generator of net-metered wind energy in Ohio. For Cooper Farms, the term “reduce, reuse, recycle” describes its long-standing commitment to sustainability and environmental preservation. In fact, Cooper Farms has installed three wind turbines at its Van Wert facility providing up to 75 percent of the 15 million kilowatts per year of electricity required to operate this location.

I appreciated the chance to communicate the message of efficiency and sustainability in Washington as well as a spirited conversation with a variety of federal agencies including the Department of Energy, the Small Business Administration, the Office of Management and Budget and the White House Business Council. Officials from the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce as well as the Cleveland’s Council of Smaller Enterprises will also joined the roundtable.

Van Wert County is one of many communities that embrace how clean renewable energy can become a non-partisan business issue. For us, renewable energy just makes strong economic sense.

Susan Munroe is president and CEO of the Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce. She wrote this for area newspapers.