May 23, 2015

Burkley’s wind farm bill in ‘early stages’

By ED GEBERT, Times Bulletin Editor | May 21, 2015 |

In the early 1980s, northwest Ohio saw a boom in interest in alternative energy, mostly wind energy. Two industrial-sized wind farms went online locally. Timber Road Wind Farm in Paulding County with 55 turbines generating 99 megawatts of electricity, and Blue Creek Wind Farm with 152 turbines generating 304 megawatts of power. Several other projects were in various stages of development.

Then in early 2014 it came to a screeching halt with the passage of new setback requirements in Ohio. The new regulations made in impractical to construct new wind farms. Several companies had purchased options for land in Van Wert, Paulding and Putnam counties, but without a change the land options were of no advantage for development. But on May 6, State Rep. Tony Burkley (R-Paulding) and Rep Tim W. Brown (R-Bowling Green) introduced House Bill 190 in the Statehouse. This bill would allow changes to be made if approved by local county officials.

“It’s just in its early stages yet,” Burkley told the Times Bulletin. “It’s had only one hearing and that was sponsor testimony. We’ve not had a second hearing to get the industry’s take on it.”

Burkley indicated that, if approved, the legislation would open the door for the wind industry.

“My whole goal with the bill is to put a little more local control into the decision-making process of the wind energy segment of renewable energy,” he said. “Basically, all the bill does is extend the payment in lieu of taxes option which expires in 2016, and this bill would extend that for five years, so that would give the commissioners the option of whether or not to enter into that alternative energy zone or these kinds of projects.

The Timber Road project was made possible through an alternative energy zone (AEZ) declaration in Paulding County. Burkley was a Paulding County Commission when that step was taken.

The bill is also aimed at giving control of setback regulation to county commissioners provided the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) does not object to the changes.

“It would also give the commissioner the option of staying with the current setbacks or revert back to what they were before the last General Assembly,” Burkley summarized.

Passage of such a bill would allow county commissioners in each Ohio county the option to relax the new rules on the distance a wind turbine can be from a specific location such as another turbine or a building. In many situations this would be the only way a wind farm could actually become a reality despite already having OPSB approval.

There are a handful of projects in the state which have received approval from the OPSB and construction has begun. These projects are under the old rules which were the current rules when approval was won and construction began. For example, North West Ohio Wind LLC is already approved for a wind farm in Blue Creek and Latty townships of Paulding County with up to 59 turbines generating 100 megawatts of power.

Burkley admitted that HB 190 hasn’t had a lot of attention from legislators yet but that the wind industry is supportive of what he is trying to do.

“They are fully supportive of what I’m trying to do,” noted Burkley. “This would help where we have the situation currently where there are a lot of projects in the pipeline. In order for those to go through the process of doing everything right, it’ll probably extend (the eligibility to use a payment in lieu of taxes) beyond 2016, so that’s why I think it is important to make sure we have the tax situation in place, that to give the wind energy people and the local government a chance to know what to expect.”

Aside from representatives of the wind industry, Burkley noted that he is getting support from another key player.

“We have a lot of support from local school districts. they see the value of these projects as far as their bottom line is concerned,” he stated.

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