Blue Creek Plant Manager Neil Voje (left side of check) presents a check for $2,070,000 to Van Wert County, township, and school district officials Thursday morning. Also on hand was State Sen. Cliff Hite, and State Rep. Tony Burkley. The payment was made in lieu of property taxes and is the first of 20 annual payments. The money is split between school districts, townships, the county, and a few other designees. (Times Bulletin/Ed Gebert)
VAN WERT — It was one of the biggest checks ever received by Van Wert County. With all the zeroes it looked like the county had won a sweepstakes prize, but actually the check was the annual payment from Iberdrola Renewables as the payment in lieu of taxes. The agreement with the Blue Creek Wind Farm developer was for a payment to be made rather than paying property taxes. The check for the year totaled more than $2 million.
State Sen. Cliff Hite, an alternative energy supporter was there for the check presentation. He summed up his feelings very simply.
He said, “Throughout this whole process, there have been some people who have been skeptical and said, ‘I’ll believe the money when I see it.’ Well, we just saw it.”
The check for $2,070,000 will be divided between Crestview and Lincolnview schools, Tully, Union, and Hoaglin townships, Thomas Edison, Council on Aging, Tri-County Mental Health, OSU Extension, the Brumback Library, and the county’s general fund.
“It’s been a long process. We started working here in 2008, and six years along here we are with the first payment, but it’s been a fun trip,” recalled Project Developer Dan Litchfield. “We saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and now we’re there. It took a little longer than we expected, but the benefits are here, they are real, and they are big. The numbers are split pretty evenly with all of our 250 landowners getting about $2 million a year. And now between Van Wert and Paulding County a little over $2.7 million a year in payment in lieu of property taxes. Big numbers.”
State Representative Tony Burkley commented, “We’re always happy to see opportunities that exist that will help the schools. This one definitely will be an added benefit to the school districts. With a $2 million-plus check coming for the schools, you just can’t ask for anything better than that. It just relieves pressure off of other avenues that the schools have to go to, whether it be property tax or income tax there’ll be that much less they’ll have to collect in that avenue. That’s good and we’re happy to see it happen.”
Blue Creek Wind Farm contains 152 wind turbines which generate two megawatts of power. The turbines are on 328-foot towers, and with blades reach 476 feet in the air. The turbines are scattered through Tully, Union, and Hoaglin townships in Van Wert County and Benton, Blue Creek, and Latty townships in Paulding County.
The majority of the check will go to schools — $410,860 to Lincolnview, $141,407 to Vantage Career Center, and $857,513 for Crestview. This is just the first of 20 annual payments in these amounts. Over the course of the 20-year period, Vantage will get $2.8 million, Lincolnview $8.2 million, and Crestview $17.1 million.
Hite pointed out, “This is money that is going to go to local government funds, and we cut local government funds at the state level to help balance the budget so this is really for them and especially for our schools. When some of these checks come in for these schools, they’re discussing lowering their local tax rate, which is just fantastic.”
Although this was the first annual payment from Iberdrola in lieu of taxes, the company has already spread donations around the area. Checks have gone to the Van Wert County Junior Fair, the Van Wert Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Van Wert County Historical Society, the Peony Pageant, Junior Achievement, and several other organizations. Iberdrola established a scholarship fund at the Van Wert County Foundation, and put together a training program with Vantage. Also more than $2 million is paid annually to around 250 land owners who are part of the project.
“Probably the biggest partnership we have had is with Vantage Career Center. We wanted some of the jobs from this project, the technicians, to be available for local people. So, we created the technician training program. We worked with Vantage to establish the curriculum that was relevant for industry employment. They began enrolling last fall, and I think they’ll be graduating the first students at the end of this spring,” Litchfield shared. “The business model for Iberdrola Renewables is to own and operate for the long term, so we want to do things from that perspective and build relationships with people in the community because we have people here for a long time.”
Litchfield reported that Blue Creek is operating pretty smoothly and since the cold weather has increased demand for electricity, the wind farm has been able to supply power on many of those frigid days. The wind farm has also been supplying electricity to Ohio State University’s Columbus campus since November. The company also has a research agreement with the university to do projects associated with different aspects of wind energy.
Iberdrola plans to continue with wind farm development in Ohio, according to Litchfield.
“We like the existing policy environment in Ohio. The laws that are in place now brought us here, and focused our development from Indiana to Ohio, so we’re working on developing some other projects nearby. On the eastern side of Van Wert County, a project called the Dog Creek Wind Farm, which will connect to the same substation as Blue Creek. We’re trying to design that to be a very cost-competitive project, lowering the cost of energy by utilizing that infrastructure that is there. And we have another project up in Putnam County. So we will keep working on those slowly but surely.”
Litchfield did not give a date for the beginning of either project, but estimated that the goal is within the next three to four years.
Hite repeated his support of wind power projects, despite some opposition.
“I realize there is some that may not like these projects, but I don’t apologize for being a part of this whole project which involves wind, solar, and biodigesters, leaving a better carbon footprints and those good ideas,” he stated. “I think we see now it’s come to fruition and it’s worth it. That’s my stand and how I believe.”
Litchfield also acknowledged some local opposition over the past few years, but said, “I want to thank the county and the community for the warm welcome they have extended to us. Wind energy is a new thing to Ohio, and by and large, the community has embraced the project with open minds and open arms. Working together with everyone is why we are here today.”