U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur announces a $1 million grant for BGSU Firelands to study utilizing wind turbines to generate electricity.

BGSU Firelands to use $1 million grant to harness wind power

The western Lake Erie shore near Huron could become a model for alternative energy sources, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-9th District) told an audience at BGSU Firelands July 10. The congresswoman was on campus to announce a $1 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for the Coastal Ohio Wind Project, a study to determine the type and placement of wind turbines at the college.

“BGSU, as the largest producer of teachers in Ohio, will help educate the public about new technologies and new possibilities,” she said. A proponent of fostering independence from foreign oil suppliers, Kaptur said the nation needs a balanced, long-term plan for energy production from a variety of sources, including wind.

Working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Aviation Administration, the study will look at area wind speeds and the turbines’ potential impact on birds, bats and local air traffic. Home to threatened species such as the piping plover, the area is in the migratory path of several species of songbirds and is the nesting site of once-endangered bald eagles. “There will be a lot of pre-construction assessment” for the height and location of the turbines on the 216-acre campus, Kaptur said. “We don’t want to destroy the eagles we’ve worked so hard to restore.”

Firelands Dean James Smith
Firelands Dean James Smith

BGSU’s Center for Regional Development will survey area residents to see what size and heights they feel are acceptable, Firelands Dean James Smith said. The potential impact on tourism will also be evaluated.

The eventual size of the turbine will be smaller than the four located near Bowling Green, Smith said. The power generated by the 250-kilowatt or larger turbine will be used by BGSU Firelands. “This is not a large-scale wind farm we’re talking about,” Smith said, adding that there is a national precedent for schools using wind power to save on utility costs.

Smith said eventually the project could include alternative energy sources such as biodiesel or methane to turn turbines when the wind is not blowing.

“We need to identify and capture the power of the wind,” Kaptur said. “It’s something we understood 100 years ago, but then we got led astray by the petroleum industry. We learned a lot, then the Europeans took it and created an industry.”

From 1974-81, NASA Glenn in Cleveland led the U.S. Wind Energy Program for large, horizontal-axis turbines. NASA constructed and operated its first experimental, 100-kilowatt turbine at the Plum Brook facility in Sandusky.

“We want to build on NASA Glenn’s experience and take it to the next level,” Kaptur said. “From here to Cleveland we have the technology. We can attract companies that can build the turbines; Owens Corning can build the blades.”

Ohio is second in the country for production of wind-energy component parts, with more than 40 manufacturers. With jobs in automobile and oil production going overseas, the alternative energy industry could provide economic revitalization to the area, she added.

Noting that the Davis-Besse nuclear reactor is aging, the congresswoman said she would like to see the area develop a mix of solar power, geothermal and biodiesel energy, among others.

“We have a lot to teach. We have to change the habits of a nation and of individuals. We also have to change how we see ourselves and how others see us,” she said, recalling the persistent image of the Cuyahoga River in flames. “We need to change from the Rust Belt to the Green Belt.

“The Coastal Wind Project is extraordinarily important because of what we can teach to others. We will be the first renewably powered region of the country. We can absolutely do it. We’re going to build our way forward, not import our way forward.”

July 17, 2006