Poking The Wind Power Dragon In Ohio, One Factory At A Time — CleanTechnica Interview
Published on January 25th, 2021 | by Tina Casey
January 25th, 2021 by Tina Casey
The great state of Ohio is a day late and a dollar short to the wind power revolution, and last year’s passage of the notorious HB 6 energy bill didn’t help matters much. Nevertheless, CleanTechnica did come across a wind company called One Energy, which has figured out how to keep the turbines coming. If you’re thinking this has something to do with distributed wind, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. Buy one for the US Department of Energy while you’re at it, because they are all over distributed wind like white on rice.
Ohio To Wind Power: Drop Dead
For those of you new to the topic, parts of Ohio are located in wind-rich quarters of the Midwest, and the tantalizing waters of Lake Erie beckon for offshore wind development, too. Ohio has also become an epicenter of wind turbine manufacturing. With 52 wind-related factories at last count, it has the most of any single state in the US.
Nevertheless, Ohio hits the unimpressive mark of #24 on the latest state ranking of the American Wind Energy Association for installed capacity and number of wind turbines installed. Ohio is also down in the doldrums for share of electricity provided by wind power, at the #31 slot. That puts Ohio squarely on a footing with the far upper reaches of the US northeast, where wind resources are less than optimal.
Among the reasons for the footdragging on wind power are two pieces of legislation signed into law in 2014 by then-governor John Kasich, which froze the state’s renewable energy goal and placed new restrictions on wind farm siting.
Then came the now-notorious HB 6. In its initial iterations the bill included some renewables-friendly provisions, but it morphed into a nuclear and coal bailout and was signed into law by current Ohio Governor Mike DeWine last summer. AWEA had this to say about that:
“House Bill 6 is another significant setback for Ohio’s clean energy market, on top of restrictive zoning provisions on wind turbines that were inserted at the last minute into the 2014 Ohio budget legislation. Among the most restrictive in the nation, Ohio’s wind farm setback restrictions have impeded wind energy development for the last five years. As a result, Ohio has fallen behind its neighbors, losing out on billions of dollars in private investment and well-paying blue-collar jobs.”
A New Hope For Wind Power In Ohio
Despite the pushback, wind power has continued to make some inroads into the Buckeye State, and One Energy is one of the firms that seems to have figured it out. In 2016, for example, the company partnered with Whirlpool to install wind turbines to power a factory in Marion, Ohio. One Energy also cites Ball Corporation’s factory in Findlay, Ohio among its wind turbine customers. More recently, the company has three new projects in the works covering three states including Ohio.
As for why a factory would need on-site wind power when all these big new wind farms are sprouting up like mushrooms after a rain, One Energy CEO and founder Jereme Kent got on the phone with CleanTechnica back in 2019 and explained that it’s all about control.
“‘We sell control,’ Kent said. ‘We offer a flat rate for 20 years. Larger users want certainty. They don’t want to be in the energy business, and direct-to-load provides the certainty they can’t get any place else.’
“’Every plant manager understands that they have two jobs,’ he added. ‘One is to be a good steward of the environment. The other is to make money. Any time there’s an overlap it is more comfortable for them.’”
The Nitty Gritty Of The Distributed Wind Business
CleanTechnica had a chance to catch up with Mr. Kent again last week, and this time we zeroed in on the business model in play. After all, big wind power developers can rely on economies of scale to smooth down “soft costs” like site analysis and transportation. When the job involves as little as one single turbine, keeping those costs under control becomes all the more critical.
Kent sits on an Energy Department peer review team for distributed wind power (more on that in a second), which gives him a broad-based perspective on the financial hurdles faced by the on-site end of the industry.
Unlike the solar industry, where solar panels are more or less the same regardless of how many are planted, wind power faces a scaling-down problem.
“For example, a single turbine costs $3 million. So how do you reconcile a $500,000 wind development study for that one turbine,” Kent explained.
Overseas transportation is another key issue. There is a cost advantage to shipping 20 turbines in a batch instead of just one, which puts wind developers at the smallest end of the scale at a disadvantage.
“International shipping costs: we need to understand what they are and how to control them,” Kent said. “Most other developers don’t have the resources to buy 20 turbines.”
On the bright side, Kent sees at least one opportunity for cutting the cost of overseas shipping, in the maturing of people skills along with the proper loading/offloading equipment.
“You save a lot of money on the boat costs if you have the right equipment and people,” Kent said.
Planning the road route for wind turbines is also a complicated, expensive endeavor that can involve permit fees, highway escorts, and workarounds for bridges and tunnels.
Standardization is another avenue of potential for cutting costs, and along those lines One Energy does not shop around for wind turbines on a project-by-project basis.
“Every couple of years we evaluate the best turbines for our projects…we tend to lock in for a couple of years to help standardize,” Kent explained.
One Energy’s current supplier is the Chinese firm Goldwind, which happens to be the largest turbine manufacturer in the world. That could change, though, so stay tuned for more on that.
One Energy shares more details about the nitty gritty of the distributed wind business on its website, for those of you interested in more details.
The Rise Of Distributed Wind In The US
Obstacles aside, it looks like the US distributed wind sector is ready for its closeup. Let’s pause for a second, though, to clarify that distributed wind refers to wind turbines of any size, not to smaller turbines per se.
The key factor, according to the Energy Department, is the use of wind power for on-site energy, or to contribute directly to a local distribution grid.
As Kent notes, the distributed wind sector has been slow to get itself together. However, hard-to-decarbonize industries like cement making, among others, are scrambling to get a foothold in the sparkling green future, and that could help accelerate growth in the field.
On its part, the Energy Department is a keen fan of distributed wind. On-site wind power dovetails with the Energy Department’s vision for decentralizing the US grid and building more security and resiliency into the nation’s energy supply, over and above the decarbonization benefits.
As for the financials, the falling cost of energy storage may help site owners take another look at the bottom line benefits of on-site wind power. Wind resources tend to peak at night, when demand falls. That’s nice for facilities that have a night shift, but kind of a waste for those that don’t. Storing that energy for daytime use would enable more site owners to maximize their wind power investment.
Another angle to keep an eye on is the emerging trend of green hydrogen, in which a green ammonia twist is also popping up. If all goes according to plan, that technology would provide site owners with two additional options for deploying unused wind power: green hydrogen for zero emission fuel, and green ammonia for fertilizer.
Interesting! Stay tuned for more news from the great state of Ohio. With the climate-centric Biden administration taking shape, Ohio’s position as a Rust Belt state could find itself front and center in the just transition movement, HB 6 or not.
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Photo (cropped): Wind turbine under construction courtesy of One Energy.
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