'This is the most beneficial project in our community — ever'

Zoe Greszler • Dec 2, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Will they harm the bird and bat populations? Do they cause health problems? What about toxic waste? How much space will they take up? And aren’t they ugly to look at?

All of these questions and more were answered at the Northern Ohioans for Wind (NOW) alternative energy forum, “Wind and Our Community,” which took place Thursday at Ernsthausen Recreation Center. NOW is a grassroots organization that “gives a voice to local community members who support renewable wind energy development.”

NOW representative and local landowner Kevin Erf, who helped emcee the event, said Apex Clean Energy “has made significant investments in our community” by its wind turbine projects and in looking to bring turbines to Huron County and surrounding areas. He said the projects will benefit the schools, local economy and job rates and the area residents “for generations to come.” 

Apex, which has an office in Bellevue, is the company behind the Emerson Creek Wind Project, which would put wind turbines in Huron and Erie counties. Apex’s other projects are Republic Wind in Sandusky and Seneca counties.

“Wind energy is good for our community,” he said. “Everyone is working hard to ensure that the disruptions (caused by turbines) are minimal.”

Is the work temporary?

One of the concerns Erf said they’ve heard about wind energy is whether the jobs created will be temporary.

Mike Engbert, marketing representative with the Laborers’ District Council of Ohio, said construction workers, especially unions, don’t view it as “temporary work.”

When asked what the project meant to him and the companies involved, Engbert said the local project, as with the five previous ones his crews have been a part of, will create jobs for several trades, allowing them to provide for their families. He said construction trades are different from other professions that expect to stick to one “job” for many years. 

“Construction isn’t a set-in-place job,” he said.

“These jobs are going to very beneficial for the community. This is just one spoke in a wheel of a career. It’s not temporary work.

“These are the kind of jobs that get kids through college, pay off mortgage payments on homes, provide a living for a family and put food on the table. I can’t overemphasize this enough because those middle-class wages are kind of dying out, right?”

He said about 65 percent of the workers will be local Ohio workers, most of which will come from the area’s municipalities and counties.

What percentage of the total jobs will be union labor? As far as construction of the turbines is concerned, Engbert said very nearly 100 percent, with just a few specialized jobs not falling under the union. 

“I think it’s very important what you’re saying because the anti-people, this is what they’re saying they’re concerned about, and you’re answering them,” Huron County Commissioner Terry Boose told Engbert. “I think that’s a message that really needs to get put out, because those are big misunderstandings.”

Rich Jordan, with Iron Workers Union 77, which covers Huron County, agreed, adding the project will bring more of the upcoming graduates into the trades, giving them a career and giving them an opportunity for crucial experience right away.

“The best thing about this is after the wind mills are built and done, these kids will have a career,” Jordan said. “They can have a career they can do 35 to 45 years, making (plenty of money). We are (a proud) people here in Ohio; we’re going to be using our Ohio people. That’s what we pride ourselves in.”

He encouraged those in the audience to allow Ohio to “be first for a change” when it comes to projects that pave the way for the future. He added the wind projects are projected to bring plenty of manufacturing jobs to the state. 

“Let’s not be second or third. Let’s not be last. Let’s be first. Let’s be proud,” he said. “Is it an eyesore? I don’t know. But if there’s a change we always want to push back. I think we need to be first for once. We’re a proud people here. Let’s be proud of this and be first for once.”

A danger to wildlife?

Erf said many are concerned the wind turbines will disrupt or harm the flying creatures and other animals in the area. 

“Nothing against anybody, but the migration of the birds, it happens, and the ducks will migrate around a turbine,” Jordan said, adding he likes ducks and other birds. Jordan said he enjoys hunting the local game and thus is interested in their well being and making sure they continue to use the local areas as their home or transportation routes as well.

Boose said many are were concerned the turbines would have adverse effects on the local wildlife. However, the commissioner told the audience everything the companies are doing is being “watched very closely” by the government agencies, making sure they’re doing things in a safe adn environmentally friendly way.

“I have full faith (in the overseeing agencies), that they’re not going to allow them to just go through and kill as many animals as they want, or anything like that,” Boose said. “I’ve been in government too long to believe that. I know there are too many regulations. They’re not going to do all these evil things that people are saying they will.” 

Michael Bertolone, a representative of another union that would be working on the projects, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18, said he’s seen how the government and local “folks care about the environment,” preventing someone from going in to “tear up a field or harm the environment.”

“They’re going to protect it. These (workers) have to go in and do just what the state wants and they’ve got to do it that way, following it to a T.” he said.

Bertolone said he’s seen it first hand on many occasions, including when it comes to caring for the soil that’s dug up — ensuring that the different levels remain separated and are returned in the proper order, without mixing. 

Miranda Leppla, an atttorney with Ohio Clean Energy said the No. 1 killer of birds and bats, after cats, is habitat loss due to climate change.

She said because of this, several extensive studies of the area wildlife have been conducted before Apex of other companies came through the area for construction work. In fact, several landowners in attendance, including Bob Ryan, of Green Springs, said because of the studies and “diligence,” the project more than seven years to launch. 

Health concerns?

Leppla said turbines also cause no health concerns for humans.

“There is no scientific evidence that the noise causes health issues, she said. “There’s no scientific evidence of any health issues coming as a result of wind turbines.” 

She and Apex representative Natasha Montague, said some have been concerned with shadow flicker from the turbines causing epileptic episodes. Montague said because the blades spin just six to nine times per minute at its fastest speed, “it’s been proven that it’s impossible to have an effect even on the most sensitive individuals.”

Should someone still have concerns over the “annoyance” caused by the shadow flicker, which she said should only effect those in a house for up to five minutes a day, the company is willing to work with home owners to cut the power for those five minutes.  

Leppla added that she’s aware of instances when Apex and other companies have worked with home owners to plant trees or other shrubbery to block the flicker as an alternative solution.  

The distance turbines must be kept from homes helps with that, Montague added.

“Currently there is not a specific set-back from homes, there is a property lines set back,” she said, meaning the turbines have to remain so far from the owners’ property lines.  

One Bellevue property owner said he has worked with Apex and the other companies and said from his experience, he believes “everyone of us in Huron County are going to benefit, whether we’re in the footprint or not.

“This is the most beneficial project in our community — ever. It looks like a win-win for everybody. There may be some inconveniences, but it looks like despite that, it’s going to be a win-win for everybody. I don’t know what could be better than this.” 

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