Several years ago, constrained budgets forced elected officials in Paulding County, Ohio, to make some tough decisions.
County commissioners closed the courthouse and county offices one day a week while county employees were again forced to forgo salary increases.
That all changed when the county and other entities received the first tax checks from the county's first wind farm, Timber Road, built three years ago by Horizon Wind Energy LLC, now known as EDP Renewables.
The county received two tax revenue payments this year totaling $898,424 from Timber Road Wind Farm.
"We restored full hours at the courthouse, did some restoration work and gave employees an 8.6 percent raise," Paulding County Commissioner Fred Pieper said. "It was their first raise in six years."
Northwest Ohio has had wind farms in operation for about three years. Some are not happy with the wind farms, while others think the arrival of alternative-energy companies is the best thing that could happen to the region.
"The wind farms came at a perfect time," Pieper said. "We were really hurting."
Next year, the county will receive revenues from its second wind farm, Blue Creek, a $600 million complex operated by Iberdrola Renewables Inc.
But it's a different story for some just a few miles south in Van Wert County.
The Blue Creek Wind Farm covers parts of Paulding and Van Wert counties with 152 turbines – 120 in three townships in Van Wert County and the remainder in Paulding County. Hoaglin Township in Van Wert County has 33 turbines.
Hoaglin Township trustees allege Iberdrola Renewables did not repair damaged township roads or resolve a potential drainage issue after construction.
In a letter sent in April to Todd Snitchler, chairman of the Ohio Power Siting Board, trustees Alfred Osting, Wayne Kemler and Milo Schaffner said issues resulting from construction of the Blue Creek Wind Farm two years ago have yet to be resolved by Iberdrola. The company had not honored a mutual road agreement, they said.
Schaffner said this month that county roads remain in disrepair and drainage is a concern. A 3 1/2 -mile stretch of Fife Road – heavily used during construction and the site of the Iberdrola connection plant – was damaged during construction, according to Schaffner.
"The company simply did a patch repair job instead of asphalting the road," he said.
Proper drainage tile was not installed in an area near the Iberdrola plant and was instead built up, Schaffner said, causing water to flow toward the road.
Those issues will become county and township problems, he said.
The residents also did not get what they were promised, he said.
Schaffner lives about a mile from the nearest windmill and said the noise of the turbines sometimes awakens him and his neighbor in the middle of the night. He believes the residents were misled.
"We were told that the noise was minimal and that light flickers are only noticeable at 1,000 meters and only for a few minutes," Schaffner said. "That simply is not true."
'The new crop'
Wind turbines work the opposite of a fan, which uses electricity to make wind. When the giant blades of the turbines are propelled by wind, it activates a shaft that connects to a generator and creates electricity.
Blue Creek Wind Farm covers 40,500 acres in two counties and seven townships. Each turbine can produce up to 2 megawatts or 2,700 horsepower, which is enough to power about 500 average homes. The wind farm can power about 87,500 homes annually, according to Iberdrola's website.
Dan Litchfield is the project manager of Blue Creek Wind Farm.
The company pays more than $2 million a year in land leases and tax payments to Van Wert taxing entities, and $5 million a year in both counties, Litchfield said.
"Energy is the new crop for farmers," Litchfield said.
Hoaglin Township is not representative of the two counties, seven townships and academic facilities within the wind farm district, said Paul Copleman, spokesman for Iberdrola Renewables.
Iberdrola spent $2.8 million in upgrades to 40 miles of roads in both counties before construction to minimize impact, and then another $2.8 million to restore the roads after construction, Copleman said.
The company hired a third-party engineer to oversee the work and worked out a road agreement, Litchfield said.
"Hoaglin chose not to participate in the agreement. Everyone is satisfied except Hoaglin Township," he said.
Drainage in Hoaglin Township will not be a problem, because the plans were upgraded, not downgraded, Litchfield said.
"Our design is sound and conforms to engineering requirements."
In Ohio, many counties are establishing special improvement districts called alternative-energy zones, which provide incentives for alternative-energy companies to grow.
Van Wert County had established an alternative-energy zone, but did away with it three months ago because there was so much discontent expressed about the windmills, Commissioner Todd Wolfrum said.
The three commissioners started out with different opinions but in the end "couldn't be more in agreement," he said.
"An AEZ takes away the authority of local government," Wolfrum said.
The commissioners don't want to halt wind farms if property owners want them, he said, but they agree energy companies should have to work with local officials, particularly on tax abatements.
Officials in neighboring Paulding County said Van Wert officials damaged the county's ability to attract more wind development by eliminating the alternative-energy zone.
"We support property owners' rights, but when it comes to tax abatements, local government needs to be involved," Wolfrum said.
Hoaglin trustee Schaffner agrees.
Iberdrola will make an $18,000 payment per tower, per year, in lieu of taxes for the next 40 years, Schaffner said.
If taxed normally, the yearly payment would be $90,000 in Hoaglin Township – a $72,000 difference, he said.
Bill Dowler, Union Township trustee in Van Wert County, said his township is the heart of the wind farm with 76 of the 152 turbines.
Union Township trustees were "cautiously optimistic" when approached about the farm, Dowler said.
As far as road conditions after construction, Dowler said his township has "stronger roads than before."
Bill Straley has owned and operated Straley Real Estate and Auctions in Van Wert for 37 years.
"I can't speak for or against the wind farms," he said. "Mathematically and statistically, we could not really show that the wind farms were helping or hurting property values."
At the onset of the wind farms initiative, many in the community were upset, Straley said.
"My 29-year-old son thinks they are beautiful and technological marvels – others think they are ugly and hate them," Straley said.
Much more of a negative factor in real estate transactions are nearby properties of smelly industrial pig or cattle farms, Straley said.
"By far, we have more sales of people trying to get away from animal farms than wind farms," he said.
A recent study backs up Straley's assessment.
Looking at more than 50,000 home sales near 67 wind farms in nine states, researchers at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory found no statistical evidence that wind turbines negatively affected property values – either before or after they were constructed.
In the works
Paulding County Commissioner Tony Zartman lives near a wind turbine. There is a flicker about twice a day when the sun is in the right spot, he said.
"But as soon as the sun moves, the flicker goes away," he said. As for noise, Zartman said he can sometimes hear it outside but has never heard it inside his home.
In his county, a third wind farm is in the works with construction set to begin in the spring, he said.
Two-thirds of the county is conducive to wind farming and hopes to attract more farms, fellow Commissioner Roy Klopfenstein said.
"When any new business starts there are challenges and concerns," Klopfenstein said.
"We aim to focus on the good and minimize the bad, and the citizens and farmers of our county have done that very well."