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NW Ohio officials back wind-power plan

Northwestern Ohio officials are lining up behind a legislative proposal to allow more local control of where wind farms can be built, a plan that would help to get around restrictions passed last year.

“Wind energy has reduced tax burdens, increased school revenues, grown profits for local businesses, created new high paying jobs, and brought hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue to rural communities,” said Jerry Zeilke, director of Paulding County economic development, in a statement. “We should not stand in the way of this kind of progress.”

He is one of 14 local elected officials and business leaders who signed a letter in support of House Bill 190, which allows for more local control. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Tim Brown, R-Bowling Green, and Tony Burkley, R-Payne, had a hearing today.

If it passes, the measure would be a small shift in a system that gives state agencies most of the control over wind-farm decisions.

The bill is in many ways a response to something passed last year by majority Republicans that increased the required distance between wind turbines and nearby property lines, a change that has been criticized by the wind-power industry because it reduces the number of turbines that can be built in a project area.

Under H.B. 190, county commissioners could vote to use the old rules on a project-by-project basis, which would allow for more turbines.

Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, a leading critic of wind energy, says he is willing to talk about the new proposal and could support some version of it.

“Introducing some element of local decision-making is perhaps something I could work with,” said Seitz, chairman of the Senate Public Utilities Committee. “I’m trying to extend an olive branch here.”

He would like to see the bill amended to say that the local authority would be held by township or village governments closest to the projects, not county commissioners. Also, he would like to see a provision that bars local elected officials from voting on wind projects in which they stand to receive a financial benefit.

It remains to be seen whether those suggestions would be deal-breakers for the northwestern Ohio leaders and the bill’s co-sponsors.