Crews from Iberdrola Renewables work on turbines in the Blue Creek Wind Farm in this photograph from earlier this summer. Iberdrola is expecting all of the turbines to be fully functioning in the next month or two. (TB file photo)
VAN WERT - Residents in the northern part of the county have watched them pop up across the horizon, one by one, over the past year. The wind turbines of the Blue Creek Wind Farm have changed the landscape of Van Wert County. But the last of the turbines are in place. For now.
"We have all 152 turbines commissioned," Iberdrola Renewables Project Developer Dan Litchfield told the county commissioners on Tuesday. "That doesn't mean they are all running, but it does mean they are almost ready to be run. Probably within a month or two they will all be running. As of last week there were about 64, so we're pretty pleased with that progress."
There are two items that could increase the number of turbines. One is the possible addition of a few more of the towers to the Blue Creek project. Litchfield noted, "We have reserved capacity on the lines for 350 MW, which is 175 turbines. We would have built it all at once, but we had some changes from the state regulatory process, so we were unable to get them permitted. There is talk of us going back and adding more turbines, but it wouldn't be able to happen until next fall. We've identified 23 new locations. I think most of those are in Paulding County in land we traded with the other developer, but some are in Van Wert County."
According to Litchfield, those turbines could be added to the project, but not until the rest of the energy being generated from the other 152 turbines is sold. Currently, Iberdrola has a contract with First Energy Solutions to provide 100 megawatts (MW) of power, but that contract does not begin until October 2012. He did reveal that the company is in negotiations presently with several different companies for the rest of the project output.
The other possible addition of turbines could come through the construction of the next phase of development. The Dog Creek Wind Farm would consist of another 152 turbines in eastern Hoaglin Township as well as Jackson, Washington and Ridge townships, essentially filling the gap between the Blue Creek Wind Farm and the City of Delphos. That project is high on Iberdrola's list because it would use the electrical substation already being used by the Blue Creek project.
"It's a good project. With the substation built, it has a $10 million advantage over a green field project. There's not much you can do to get that type of an advantage on a project," explained Litchfield. "We're just not really pushing that yet. We need to get 30,000 acres and we're about at 13,000. Once we get to that critical mass, we can design the project and go to the Ohio Power Siting Board application, then be ready to build when the demand is there, probably in two to five years."
The Dog Creek project would also need no updates to the grid. But it will need an energy buyer to keep the project going. As for now, the turbines that are producing electricity are feeding it into the grid. Iberdrola is selling the power for the current market price, which Litchfield said is pretty low.
The piece needed to add turbines is governmental help. The tax credit which made construction of wind farms feasible has an expiration date that is less than two weeks away.
"The federal production tax credit for wind is expiring at the end of this year and has not been renewed," Litchfield stated. "It's just tied up in the partisan nature of Congress these days. There is a bill in the House to extend it, the Renewable Production Tax Credit Act of 2011. It's a one-issue bill, and it may get rolled into the payroll tax and all that, but it's hard to say."
The future of other Iberdrola projects in the county and wind farms from other developers will depend on having the demand for the power as well as the tax break from Washington. Columbus has done its part, extending what was originally Senate Bill 232 through the end of 2013.