The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019

Wind: A failure of leadership

The Van Wert County commissioners and other local government officials talk a lot about economic development. Unfortunately, that’s apparently all it is: talk.

During a recent candidates’ night hosted by the Heart Land Patriots, Commissioner Thad Lichtensteiger commended development director Stacy Adam for her work on economic development, noting: “Stacy is sharp, she is aggressive, and anything she can get her hands on to locate and come to Van Wert County, short of bringing nuclear waste here, anything is fair game and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Apparently that statement should be amended to “nuclear waste and wind turbines”.

In an opinion piece signed by all three county commissioners, our top county officials basically say they’re not interested in pursuing wind energy projects, although you have to read between the lines to understand that.

Mostly, the piece is a litany of sentimental claptrap about “the rural life we have grown to love [being] entirely destroyed” and sly untruths, such as a fear of diminishing property values, to justify county commissioners’ opinion that a project that brings millions of dollars to local schools, property owners, and the county itself isn’t all that great.

The commissioners talk about property values diminishing, but local realtor Chet Straley recently testified before the Ohio General Assembly that land values have not been hurt by the existing Blue Creek Wind Farm, and, if anything, have actually increased.

Maybe the commissioners just don’t understand that economic development, simply put, is just two things: jobs and money. In this case, wind projects are perfect for the county, since they don’t create all that many jobs, and Van Wert County needs money a lot more than it needs jobs right now.

Certainly, local business leaders such as Central Insurance President Bill Purmort, hospital President/CEO Jim Pope, and National Door & Trim owner Tom Turnwald understand the value of wind energy to Van Wert County. All three, as well as three other business leaders — Kim Braun of Braun Industries, and Greg Cooper and Mark Hiegel of Cooper Farms — signed a letter supporting wind energy development.

The business leaders, as well as county school superintendents, also spoke eloquently about the economic benefits of wind energy to the county, noting the Blue Creek Wind Farm already provides more than $2 million to schools and a number of county agencies, while the proposed Long Prairie Wind Farm project would pretty much double those benefits.

In fact, the Blue Creek project is the largest taxpayer in the county. Think of that; more than Eaton, more than Central Insurance, more than Federal-Mogul or the hospital. If that isn’t economic development, I’d like to know what is.

While not one of the three commissioners said a word against wind energy while meeting with business and school leaders, Mr. Lichtensteiger pooh-poohed wind energy’s financial benefits during the recent candidate event, noting that just “throwing money” at local problems, such as the county’s drug abuse epidemic, won’t solve them.

Of course that’s true, but it’s also true that solving those problems will cost money. Probably lots of it. And where is that money going to come from? Obviously not from wind energy, if the current county commissioners have anything to do with it.

The real problem here is that the kind of economic development issues cities have been dealing with forever are now coming to rural areas. Unfortunately, the commissioners, all of them rural residents, are apparently siding with rural residents who do not want that development, even knowing the entire county stands to benefit greatly from wind energy. That, to me, is irresponsible.

What county officials don’t seem to realize is that someone is nearly always negatively affected by economic development. They also don’t apparently realize that they were elected to make the tough decisions and do what is best for the MAJORITY of their constituents, not a vocal minority.

The Long Prairie Wind Farm project is a prime example. Even if ALL the people in the proposed wind farm footprint were against the project — which is obviously not the case, since a number of those residents have wind turbine agreements with Apex Clean Energy — the total number of people involved is probably no more than 15 percent of the county’s total population.

How does the other 85 percent, including those people in the Van Wert City School District that stands to benefit substantially from the project, feel? It’s doubtful that anyone has bothered to ask them.

I understand the argument that “I built a home for $250,000 in the country to enjoy the stillness and scenery.” I have a house in the city and every year my allergies begin kicking up when farmers put herbicides and other chemicals on their fields. So can I vote on whether to have agriculture in the county? Of course not. I would likely vote for it anyway, since I realize that agribusiness revenues are an economic development necessity.

The $250,000 house argument also avoids the fact that a mega-hog or mega-dairy farm could locate next to that house despite opposition — and certainly without a vote. I, for one, would prefer the wind turbine.

The commissioners say they like a proposed amendment by State Senator Rob McColley that wants to give those living in a proposed wind farm footprint the chance to vote it down. Of course they do: it keeps them from having to make the tough choice between disappointing the relatively few (but loud) county residents who complain about wind turbines (and their rural buddies who don’t like turbines cluttering up their bucolic scenery) or okaying a project that would bring millions of dollars to county schools and other entities.

First of all, voting on a wind farm project is ludicrous. We don’t vote on bringing a new plant or company into Van Wert County, do we? Secondly, if such a ridiculous measure would be adopted by the Ohio General Assembly, it should include everyone who stands to lose or gain on a wind farm project. As it stands, the McColley amendment is just an attempt to disenfranchise the majority of county residents who would benefit from more money for their schools, library, and many other worthwhile agencies, and the commissioners, if they supported wind energy, should be actively opposing it.

As it now stands, wind energy is the best economic development deal Van Wert County has going for it. In fact, it’s about the only economic development option we have right now. Moreover, wind farm projects cost the county virtually nothing and provide millions of dollars for a guaranteed 30 years.

Mr. Purmort made the remark during his meeting with the commissioners that, if a traditional company was willing to invest a quarter of a billion dollars in the community (like Apex is willing to do), people would be falling all over themselves to welcome it. I’m not so sure. What if those living next to the plant site complain? Do we then allow them to vote on whether it comes in?

To be clear, this is not a wind energy issue. It is an economic development issue, and the issue for me is simple: Can local government officials, those in the county — and even those in the city — find the guts to make difficult decisions on economic development in Van Wert County? So far, the answer would seem to be no.

–Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent editor

POSTED: 04/17/18 at 10:57 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions