New technology is allowing energy producers to capture speedier wind that environmental activists say has the potential to provide 20 percent of the state's electricity within 10 years.
What's new are taller windmills that can catch gusts that are faster than those closer to the ground. The tallest windmills have been about 250 feet, but now proponents envision windmills whose bases are about 330 feet tall.
Four windmills in northwest Ohio provide part of Bowling Green's energy supply, the only municipality in the state to use electricity from wind. Only eight states that use wind power make less than Ohio's seven-megawatt capacity produced at Bowling Green, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Texas' windmills produce 2,768 megawatts to lead the nation.
Ohio lags, in part, because the state is one of only 12 that have no standards that are established or under consideration for the use of renewable energy sources. However, new Gov. Ted Strickland has said development of those sources is a priority and House Speaker Jon Husted has created the House Alternative Energy Committee to study the issue.
Environment Ohio, which promotes the use of alternatives to coal and natural gas to produce electricity, and the DOE presented the department's new wind map Thursday that shows speeds clocked at the height of taller windmills. According to the map, vast areas of northern and western Ohio have winds strong enough to make wind power profitable. Promoters consider winds of about 17 mph strong enough to produce energy.
"The map shows Ohio is considerably more windy than previous research," said Dennis Elliot, a principal scientist with DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The map excludes areas where wind harvesting could be impractical or harm the environment, including near airports and on Lake Erie.
Some Ohio-based power companies are investing in wind energy in states with laws requiring a set percentage of renewable energy. Columbus-based American Electric Power has asked state regulators to allow it to charge its 1.5 million Ohio customers a small fee to buy electricity from renewable resources.
One reason utilities are reluctant to build wind farms is uncertainty over recovering the costs because the state's regulatory structure is still being determined after changes were made in 1999, said Melissa McHenry, an AEP spokeswoman.
However, consultant Daryl Stockburger, who supervised construction of the Bowling Green project in 2003-04 when he was that city's utilities director, is working with municipalities like Clyde and Elmore in northwest Ohio and Washtenaw County, Mich., which includes Ann Arbor. He also has a few private clients.
Stockburger said he has found the winds to be consistently faster at 330 feet than at the top of Bowling Green's 250-foot windmills.
"I don't know of anyone who has used a 100-meter (about 330 feet) tower. The extra wind speed we'd see would cost-justify the taller tower," said Stockburger, who operates North Coast Wind and Power.
Environment Ohio spokeswoman Amy Bomberg said she's encouraging lawmakers to adopt percentage targets soon so Ohio doesn't fall too far behind other states in developing renewable resources.
"We urge Ohio's leaders to commit to getting 10 to 20 percent of Ohio's energy from wind in the next decade," Bomberg said.
Whoever makes the next move in Ohio will attract attention, Stockburger said.
"People will watch the first one to do it," he said.