COLUMBUS – Ohio’s fledgling wind energy industry is balking at a largely ignored provision of a massive environmental bill overwhelmingly approved in the House this week, arguing it is designed to throw one more wrench into its turbines.
The language would allow the state Department of Natural Resources to impose additional fees on wind farms based on the killing and injury, or “take,” of wild animals, a broad restriction the wind industry maintains would not be imposed on its competitors.
“No other state in the country has done that,” said Dayna Baird Payne, a lobbyist representing the American Wind Energy Association. “Some have done it for threatened and endangered species.”
She argued that the wind industry could be penalized for the deaths of common crows and other birds, squirrels, and chipmunks when a similar mandate isn’t placed on solar and other renewable energy sources.
“It’s laughable at best,” she said. “It’s certainly unfair. It’s like saying only drivers in purple cars need a ‘take’ permit when they run over a squirrel.”
House Bill 490, sponsored by Reps. Dave Hall (R., Millersburg) and Andy Thompson (R., Marietta), is a sweeping bill.
It includes measures to reduce runoff of toxic algae-fueling phosphorus from farmland into Ohio waterways. It adjusts penalties associated with the disposal of brine from hydraulic fracturing operations, and makes it easier for telecommunications companies to back away from their commitment to basic phone land-line service in favor of broadband and wireless alternatives.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 73-20, with the support of nearly all of the northwest Ohio delegation. It now goes to the Senate, with the expectation that it will reach Gov. John Kasich’s desk before lawmakers end the two-year session in mid-December.
ODNR requested the wind “take” provision as a follow-up to a 2012 energy law that, among other things, authorized the department to develop a “take” fee program for all energy producers. The language added to House Bill 490, however, only applies to the wind sector.
Wind power and environmental advocates see the provision as one more obstacle the state has thrown into the path of the development of wind farms in recent years.
A provision was enacted earlier this year that increased mandatory property setback distances for the siting of wind turbines. Mr. Kasich also signed into law a two-year halt on the state’s mandate that electric utilities find at least 25 percent of their power from renewable and advanced energy sources by 2025.
“[Wind] is where we’re noticing the takes,” ODNR spokesman Bethany McCorkle said. “We have proven numbers.”
She said other energy industries face such permitting regulations, such as when stream pollution leads to a fish kill.
The department would develop rules as to how the permitting fees would be applied, with the goal of encouraging wind farms to take steps to mitigate their impact on wildlife, such as changing the speed of turbines during bird migrating season, she said.
“It will be done on a case-by-case basis,” Ms. McCorkle said. “We’ll factor in location and timing.”
Rep. Tony Burkley (R., Payne), whose district includes major wind farms in Paulding and Van Wert counties, found the term “wild animal” to be too broad. He prepared an amendment to remove the language, but other energy producers balked. They feared reverting to the 2012 law would also capture them in the “take” permit net.
Mr. Hall has agreed to work with him to address the issue in the Senate.
“My district has received quite a bit of benefit from the wind industry, not only for the county but also the school districts and landowners,” he said. “I didn’t want to see that come to an end or make it more difficult for them to be in Ohio.”
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