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State law could trump local zoning on wind turbines  

All the hand-wringing and fighting between area township officials and residents over wind turbine zoning, including a recent discussion about a moratorium, may well have been an exercise in futility if an amendment attached to the Legislature’s annual spending bill gets expected approval in coming days.

The amendment, which was introduced by Cincinnati area State Sen. Bill Seitz, would turn responsibility for guiding any wind farm development to the Ohio Power Siting Board, which currently only oversees developments that exceed 50 megawatt generation capacity.

It would lower the minimum to 5 megawatts, which would essentially limit the number of wind turbines a company could install to two before the project would require state oversight, but would not prevent a property owner from installing a small turbine to supplement their own electric use.

Sen. Seitz said although the area of southern Ohio he represents is not being considered for wind development, he wanted to help protect citizens, especially after the lack of regulations that were in place when cellular communication towers started being installed around the state 20 years ago.

“Without this, there is absolutely no protection of any kind for people who live beside a proposed wind farm,” the senator said in a telephone interview. “Roughly 50 percent of Ohio’s townships are unzoned. You can basically do anything that doesn’t create a nuisance on a neighbor’s property and there is nothing that can be done to stop it.”

While the townships in Logan and Champaign counties where wind development already is being discussed all have zoning ordinances, the discussion over the wind amendment has been heated. Earlier this week, Jefferson Township Trustees discussed a moratorium presented by citizens to put a temporary ban on wind turbine development until zoning could be discussed further.

While the new law would leave the majority of the particulars up to the siting board, which consists of representatives of a wide array of state agencies, Sen. Seitz said it does include bare minimum setbacks for wind turbines of 1.1 times the tower and rotor radius from adjacent property lines and 750 feet from any inhabitable structure.

But residents fighting for stricter zoning say those setbacks are not adequate.

“This sends the opposite message we intended,” said Tom Stacy, a Logan County resident who encouraged Sen. Seitz to develop the amendment. “To have minimums implies that would be safe and protect property rights, but we do not believe that is true about these distances.”

He said the distances are below recommendations set forth by wind turbine manufacturers themselves.

Sen. Seitz, however, said getting any changes to the law that could get enough support in Columbus was like walking a political tightrope.

“I had to work arduously with the governor’s office, the Department of Development, wind companies, the Ohio Township Association and the county commissioners’ association to get this done,” he said, noting that the power siting board can increase setbacks required on any particular project as it goes through the siting process.

That process includes several public hearings in which input from local officials and residents will be taken into account.

Roger Brown, a Jefferson Township property owner who has a lease agreement with the wind development company Babcock & Brown, said he sees no reason to criticize the amendment.

“I think it’s a good idea anything commercial in size should be regulated by the state,” he said. “The only thing with 1.1 times the height is it may not be as practical for some people, but I can live with that.”

The spending bill, which is in excess of 1,000 pages, had not passed the House on Friday afternoon, but Sen. Seitz said he expects it to do so within the next two weeks.

The amendment regarding wind turbines, however, appears to have necessary support, he said.

By Reuben Mees
Examiner Staff Writer

The Bellefontaine Examiner

31 May 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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