Ohio has small wind turbines, but some people wonder if it can support a large wind farm.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Vic Leighliter is a prospector, gambling there is value in the wind swirling over his 25-acre southeast Ohio farm.
Determined to turn a breeze into electricity, Leighliter borrowed $20,000 to put a small wind turbine on a 100-foot high forest fire watchtower on his property last summer.
"I'd rather invest in the wind than the stock market," said Leighliter, who expects to pay off his investment in a decade and continue to produce energy while selling some to a power grid.
"On a nice windy day, I can easily make 30 kilowatts, but on a day with a small amount of wind, it's like nine," he said. On average, he said, his wind turbine produces energy to meet about half his electricity needs at his two-story farmhouse in New Marshfield.
Hope for more
Wind power enthusiasts in Ohio hope that small projects like Leighliter's are precursors to much larger ventures. But progress has been slow, even as some nearby states have built or are developing wind farms -- an array of turbines. Ohio has no wind farm, and opinions differ on whether its wind is strong enough.
Ohio has about 12 small wind turbines, which can cost more than $1 million each and are generally combined with solar power systems, said William Spratley, director of the Columbus-based renewable energy advocacy group Green Energy Ohio. One turbine was erected in November at Glacier Ridge Metro Park near Columbus, and another, in January at Lake Farmpark near Cleveland.
The federal government says 23 states, not including Ohio, have at least one megawatt of wind power capacity, generally considered to be enough energy to power up to 1,000 homes. The Washington-based American Wind Energy Association has said the nation is using wind to generate enough power for 1 million homes each year.
California and Texas are the most productive wind states, it says, though states near Ohio in the past decade have started or are planning wind farms.
In Garrett, Pa., Green Mountain Energy Co., based in Austin, Texas, has had since May 2000 an operating wind farm of eight turbines, producing enough power for about 3,000 homes each year.
A 51-megawatt wind power facility is planned for this year near Tiskilwa, Ill., approximately 100 miles west of Chicago.
And in eastern West Virginia, 44 wind turbines were erected last year near the Maryland border for a wind farm called the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center.
Ohio wind map
The U.S. Department of Energy last produced a map of Ohio's wind strengths about 20 years ago.
"The old map is kind of worthless, to tell you the truth," Spratley said. It shows that most of Ohio is not worthy of commercial wind development, because the wind classifications are not brisk enough other than at a few spots near Cleveland or over Lake Erie, he said.
The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which produces wind maps, is updating the department's U.S. wind atlas.
An updated map of Ohio's wind patterns is expected this year, said Lawrence Flowers, an agency wind team leader in Golden, Colo.
Flowers said 17 states, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Illinois, already have new wind maps, and he said Ohio's new mapping is expected to reveal potential for wind development.
Not very hopeful
But Jeff Rogers, Ohio's state climatologist and a geology professor at Ohio State University, said he does not expect Ohio's wind to translate into much electric power.
He said southern Ohio has an average wind velocity of 6 to 8 mph, which is considered low for wind power. Winds range 10 to 12 mph near Lake Erie during the cold part of the year, still not enough to cause much potential for wind energy, he said.
He said states such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania can take advantage of a higher topography, because wind is consistently strong at higher elevations.