The Van Wert County Courthouse

Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022

Business execs support wind farm project

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

A proposed Van Wert County wind energy project got some major support from the CEOs of three county employers during a meeting held Thursday with the County Board of Commissioners.

Central Insurance President/CEO Bill Purmort (second from left) talks about the benefits of wind energy, while (from the left) Commissioners Thad Lichtensteiger (left), Todd Wolfrum (unseen behind Pumort), and Stan Owens, Crestview Superintendent Mike Estes, and Lincolnview Superintendent Jeff Snyder listen. Commissioners Clerk Ryanne Bollenbacher takes notes in the background. Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent

Bill Purmort, president/CEO of Central Insurance Companies; Jim Pope, president/CEO of Van Wert County Hospital; and Tom Turnwald, owner of National Door & Trim, attended a meeting with County Commissioners Thad Lichtensteiger, Todd Wolfrum, and Stan Owens and talked about the benefits of alternative energy development — in particular, a pending wind energy project planned by Apex Wind Energy.

Purmort also wrote a letter to the commissioners outlining benefits of wind energy, as well as urging the commissioners to support the proposed wind turbine setbacks outlined in Ohio House Bill 238, as well as either reinstate the county Alternative Energy Zone or approve a project-specific Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement for the Long Prairie Wind Farm project.

Purmort noted in his letter that Avangrid Renewables’ Blue Creek Wind Farm is currently the largest taxpayer in the county, paying a total of $2,090,000 a year in PILOT money in 2017 — which he said represents nearly 7.4 percent of all 2017 county tax revenues.

In addition to the PILOT revenues, Purmort said Avangrid also pays out more than $2 million in lease payments to county landowners.

During construction of the wind farm, Purmort added, more than 500 workers were employed and injected approximately $25 million into the local economy in just two years. He also noted that the wind farm currently employs 19 full-time and highly-paid employees who live in, and pay taxes to, the local community.

“An added bonus is the continued development of Vantage Career Center’s new program for wind farm technicians, the county’s fastest growing occupation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” Purmort wrote in his letter.

The Central Insurance president noted that Apex Clean Energy’s Long Prairie project being developed in the southern and western portions of the county has the potential to exceed the financial benefits from the Blue Creek Wind Farm, adding the project would include development in all three county school districts, as well as potentially provide an estimated $3 million in turbine lease payments to county landowners.

The school money could be used for infrastructure projects, STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) education, teacher salaries, or even reducing the need for additional future tax levies, Purmort added.

Included would be an estimated $500,000 in annual PILOT revenue for county government, the Central executive said, in addition to the $300,000 the county currently receives annually from the Blue Creek Wind Farm. That’s a total of $10 million of additional county revenue over the project’s 20-year lifespan, added to the $6 million the county already stands to receive from the Blue Creek Wind Farm during its lifespan.

The Long Prairie project would also create 30 new full-time positions in the county, and inject even more revenue during construction than the county saw with the Blue Creek project, Purmort wrote.

“Is Van Wert County open for business, or are we closed to an innovative industry providing energy that Fortune 100, 500, and 1000 companies demand?” the Central Insurance CEO added in his letter, noting that, of the 11 Ohio counties with pending wind farm projects, Van Wert County is the only one whose commissioners are not actively encouraging wind development.

“Restricting, inhibiting business development does not fall into our conservative, pro-business development values,” Purmort added in his letter.

During Thursday’s meeting, Purmort opened the session with a presentation on the benefits of approving a second wind farm project for the county, and his and fellow business leaders’ support of expanding the county’s commitment to wind energy.

“We like the idea that it is not a short-term vision, we like the idea that this is a long-term revenue stream that‘s sustainable; it’s something that is not a flash in the pan, there aren’t strings attached to whether or not it’s successful or not,” Purmort told the commissioners. “You erect these towers, the wind blows, it generates power … the output is conservative and clean.”

Purmort also talked about the fact that wind energy is a proven technology.

“This is a concept that is embraced all over the world, it’s not just Van Wert County,” Purmort said, noting alternative energy opportunities can only come from two sources: wind and solar.

He also touted the commissioners’ ability to negotiate the most favorable deal possible with wind energy companies.

“So often when these opportunities come along, we don’t have that say,” Purmort stressed, noting that local communities typically have little or no input when a new industry or business comes in, but the commissioners do have the power to negotiate when it comes to wind energy. “That’s a huge advantage.

Purmort stressed that financial benefits from wind energy are nearly risk-free.

“Certainly, the tax revenue that we’re getting … that’s coming to us at a cost that’s nearly zero,” he added, noting that, unlike a major industrial plant, which has tremendous water and energy needs, other than road construction during installation of the turbines, wind energy is nearly cost-free, while providing significant long-term financial revenues.

“And when I put all those things together, I’m thinking to myself ‘where’s the downside on those decisions?’ There really aren’t any,” Purmort said, adding his belief that there is a very large percentage of county residents who support alternative energy and what it brings to a community: the revenue flows, the jobs, the taxes.

“The opportunities to declare whether I want it in my backyard or not … that’s individual choice,” he added, but stressed the benefits of wind energy are communitywide. “The revenues are flowing into our schools, it’s flowing into the towns, it’s flowing into the county, it’s flowing into the state.

“Somebody has figured out a way to harvest the value of the air above the ground, and that’s ingenious, right?” Purmort said. “And on top of that, they’re willing to make a huge investment.”

Noting the investment made in the community already by Avangrid, which he estimated at a quarter of a billion dollars, is certainly comparable to a major industry locating here, but without the negatives that would come with such a project.

“If that was a manufacturing plant, a quarter of a billion-dollar manufacturing plant, people would be jumping up and down,” he said, adding, “but nobody looks at a bunch of windmills and says: that’s a quarter of a billion dollars … it’s the same thing as a building; or more, because it’s less intrusive.”

Purmort also told the commissioners that, by not considering going back to the original setbacks, they are creating an un-level playing field for Van Wert City Schools — which has received no revenues from the Blue Creek Wind Farm, but would benefit substantially from the Long Prairie Wind Farm — as well as county landowners who did received no revenues from the Blue Creek project, but can now benefit through lease payments from a new wind farm project.

“The other big point is that the opportunity to take advantage of this is not infinite, this is not going to be there forever,” Purmort warned, noting there’s a finite amount of capital to be invested in wind and solar energy. “Here, we are the bullseye of wind; these companies are going to build farms regardless of the setback laws or regardless of whatever … and those opportunities for investment and capturing those revenue streams potentially coming to our community and our schools for a 20-year period are going to vanish.”

Turnwald noted that, if the commissioners turn down this opportunity, he doesn’t know of any other plan that brings in the amount of revenues a wind farm would generate — revenue that he said positively impacts “quality of life” issues he and his company need to bring new employees to the community.

Turnwald also said that, while Crestview and Lincolnview are currently working on infrastructure projects — adding classrooms at Crestview and a new community center and bus barn at Lincolnview — without going to the taxpayers for more money, Van Wert is trying to find money just to add a few ballfields.

Cindy Hurless, a member of the Van Wert City Board of Education, and Acting Superintendent Staci Kaufman noted that the city’s 2,200-student district has never been able to afford a bus barn to house its expensive fleet of buses, while also having added challenges that comes from being a city school district, rather than a rural district such as Crestview and Lincolnview.

New challenges facing the district include finding money to hire a school resource officer to provide better school security, as well as teachers for its innovative educational program, and money for capital projects such as a bus barn and renovation of Eggerss Stadium — a project the community supports, but may not have the money to bring to fruition.

Kaufman said the city school district doesn’t have the luxury of a large financial carryover to pay for the projects it must fund to stay competitive with Crestview and Lincolnview, adding that the district could even lose state and federal funding if it fails to stay competitive.

Lincolnview Superintendent Jeff Snyder and Crestview Superintendent Mike Estes were also at the meeting, along with Vantage Superintendent Rick Turner, whose school has benefited from a new program that trains wind energy technicians.

Both Snyder and Estes said that, without the additional funds provided by the Blue Creek Wind Farm — $857,000 annually for Crestview and $400,000 a year for Lincolnview — many of the educational and facility amenities enjoyed by both districts would likely not have happened. Unlike Van Wert, both districts have large financial carryovers, enough so that Crestview decided it didn’t need to collect revenues from an emergency levy that had been on the books for a number of years, thereby saving district taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Pope added his support to what Purmort and others had said, reminding those in the room that fossil fuels are not limitless, although Americans seem to think they are, and wind and solar energy could potentially solve future energy challenges.

“I’ve never lived in an area that was as windy as this area,” he said, to laughs from those at the meeting. “But to me, that wind just is a limitless resource that gives us something that we can export … that we can take advantage of — a natural, God-given resource that comes just to this area.”

His also noted that increased tax revenues from wind energy investments are going to benefit somebody, asking rhetorically: “Why not us?”

Pope told the commissioners that, while Van Wert County is an agricultural community, not everyone likes agriculture: not everyone likes the way pigs or other animals smell. The hospital CEO stressed that wind energy, like agriculture, although maybe not universally loved, is an industry that provides needed resources to a community — and could provide even more to this county if a second wind farm is approved.

Purmort, in closing, also reiterated the responsibility of the commissioners to make the right decision on this issue, noting that he would like to see county officials provide the leadership needed to decide what’s best for the community.

“It’s about you deciding what’s best for us, and that’s huge,” Purmort concluded. “Certainly I don’t envy the three of you having to do that, but guess what, we elected you all to do that.”

Purmort also said that, while the commissioners have a tough decision, he and other business people are committed to providing support to them on the issue, if that support would bring another wind farm, with its many benefits, to the county.

POSTED: 03/30/18 at 1:14 am. FILED UNDER: News