Shifting winds around turbinesWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | email@example.com
Placing a wind turbine at Collins Park has been discussed for several years. In October it was still included with the solar array project; now it’s not. Who was blamed and what was said could be described as a soap opera, “As the Wind Turbine Turns.”
Legislation was presented to Toledo City Council on Nov. 26 for the proposed solar array at the Collins Park water treatment plant. Sources within city government stated that the wind turbine part of the project was dead because Midwest Terminals of Toledo International wanted too much money for leasing land needed for an easement.
Toledo Free Press contacted Alex Johnson, CEO of Midwest, and John D. Walthall, manager of the water treatment plant, on Nov. 26. Via e-mail Nov. 26, Johnson said that Midwest had been threatened with an eminent domain scenario.
David Leffler, director of the Department of Public Utilities, contacted Toledo Free Press on Nov. 28 by phone in response to our e-mail to Walthall. Leffler said “the project is still moving.” He said the city was seeking an easement from Midwest for transmission lines.
On the subject of eminent domain, Leffler first said that did not happen. When pressed, Leffler said, “Eminent domain might have been casually mentioned, but not threatened.”
Toledo Free Press contacted Johnson again, and he referred us to Fred Deichert, chief financial officer for Midwest, who played an active role in the negotiations with the city.
On Nov. 30, legislation concerning the solar array project was discussed at Council’s agenda review. The wind turbine project was briefly mentioned but why it was no longer a part of the Collins Park project was not addressed.
Deichert told Toledo Free Press on Dec. 1 that after the initial contact with Johnson by Toledo in June, he became the main contact, with Jason Lowery, director of business development for Midwest, in a secondary role.
At the first meeting, Deichert said a number of staff from the city of Toledo were present, including Tim Murphy, commissioner of division of environmental services.
The property is the former Gulf Oil refinery that’s been renamed the Ironville property, Deichert said.
“The ultimate landholder is the Port Authority; Midwest has a long-term lease with the Port and it’s our job to work with the Port Authority to develop the land,” he said. “The city originally came in saying they need a minimum of five acres, they need a safety area and you are certainly not able to build anything underneath.”
Deichert said he had questions, such as what types of restrictions would be in place for building height outside of the 5 acres. He wanted assurances in writing as part of the lease. He stated the first lease price offered “was a healthy price.”
In July, Lowery went on a tour of the property with City of Toledo staff. When Lowery returned, he reported to Johnson and Deichert that the city’s position was, “If you won’t work with us, we’ll just go to the Port and get it done.”
Deichert said, “They did not use the exact words ‘eminent domain,” what they basically said is ‘We are going to go over your head and take the land’.”
The original offer made by the city to lease the five acres was less than what Midwest is paying the Lucas County Port Authority for 2 acres. Midwest wanted to cover its costs.
“We are a for-profit business; we didn’t develop this property to just give it away,” Deichert said.
After several weeks, a Port Authority member contacted Deichert to set a meeting with Midwest and the city. Deichert said in addition to offering a lower lease price that was slightly above what Midwest is paying per acre, he also offered the option of leasing fewer than 5 acres so Toledo could stay within the budget it had for property leasing.
That Nov. 5 meeting was the last that Midwest heard from the City of Toledo. Deichert was later told by a Port member that the project had “gone cold” and that it did not appear the grant paperwork was going to be completed in time.
The time frame of the remaining solar array part of the project was discussed at a Nov. 30 agenda review. IPS Energy Ventures LLC, the private company that Toledo and the Port Authority are partnering with, must have 5 percent of the construction done by the end of 2010 to get the $1.4 million grant that is part of the funding for the project.
Toledo Free Press contacted Tim Murphy on Dec. 1. Murphy confirmed that the city was seeking 5 acres and not just an easement for transmission lines. He said it was needed because of the required fall zone. The proposed wind turbine’s hub is 220 feet in the air; the tip of the blade is 350 feet in the air.
The required fall zone differs throughout the U.S.; it’s generally the height of the tower. Ingleside, Texas, requires the fall zone to be 75 percent of the tower height; Middletown, Rhode Island, requires a circular area 125 percent of the tower height as the fall zone. An acre equals about 209 feet on each side, which would mean Toledo’s fall zone would be more than 1,000 feet.
Murphy said that Midwest did not offer to lease less land and there was no threat to have the Port Authority take the land from Midwest. He said, “There was an assumption the price had been worked out since it was part of the model, and we think Midwest was above the fair market value on the lease.”
When Murphy and Deichert were told the differences in what each had said, both stood by their statements.
When asked why during an Oct. 25 Toledo City Council utilities hearing it was never mentioned that the 1-megawatt wind turbine would be located on land that the city did not own, Murphy said, “They never asked.”
Because of cell phone towers, underground reservoirs and the required fall zone, the city does not have the necessary land to place the wind turbine at the water treatment plant site.
Murphy said he was surprised that the wind turbine was not asked about at agenda review.
“I was prepared to explain and discuss it, but it never came up. Wind is on hold due to the siting discussion,” he said.
“The funding as it is proposed will be leveraged out on other projects. We have built funding for future projects into that bond fund. We like the turbine pricing, wind is half the price of solar, but it’s more difficult to site,” Murphy said.
The elimination of the wind turbine will not seriously impact the amount of energy estimated to be produced. Murphy said they had made conservative estimates as to how much energy the 1-megawatt solar array would produce and that the first plan for Collins Park only included a 250-kilowatt solar array and the 1 megawatt wind turbine.
Midwest does not want to be the scapegoat for the wind turbine project not moving forward; it supports alternative energy. One of its subsidiaries is the alternative energy company Red Lion Bio-Energy. While it was willing to continue negotiating the lease, Deichert said what transpired, “gives the impression that the city is not bargaining in good faith.”
Murphy said that solar and wind projects are a learning experience for the city and, “the turbine project was no longer a viable piece in this project. We needed to continue to press forward on the solar side.”
If Council passes the legislation Dec. 7, IPS Energy will have 24 days to get 5 percent of the construction done. Will the solar array succeed where the turbine project has stalled? The crystal ball is cloudy on that one.
Toledo Free Press contributor Lisa Renee Ward operates the political blog Glass City Jungle.com.