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Ohio Senate’s budget includes less-restrictive wind setbacks

COLUMBUS – The Ohio Senate on Tuesday added an amendment to its proposed budget that would make it easier for wind-energy developers to construct wind farms in the state, according to Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite, Republican of Findlay.

The change would allow the developers to place turbines closer to property that is vacant but not considered part of the wind farm.

If the amendment survives the budget process and becomes law, it would roll back legislation passed in 2014 that made Ohio’s so-called setback requirements among the most restrictive in the country.

In 2014, then-Senate President Keith Faber sought a longer setback to protect property rights of those who were not benefiting from the location of a wind farm and didn’t want turbines too close to property that they might eventually build on.

The problem with the change is that it rendered wind farm development in Ohio virtually impossible.

The current amendment does not restore the old setback regulations, but offers a compromise that the wind-power industry can live with, Hite said. It differs somewhat from the amendment as previously proposed by Hite.

Hite said he expects the amendment to be in the Senate’s final version of the budget. The Ohio House of Representatives is not expected to accept the Senate’s version, which means a conference committee will likely decide the fate of the proposed setback change.

The northwest quadrant of Ohio generates suitable wind for generating electricity. The largest wind farm in the state has 152 turbines and extends across portions of Van Wert and Paulding counties.

Other turbines spinning in the vicinity are providing electricity for Amazon Web Services, which operates cloud-computing centers in the state. Amazon’s goal is to offset the power it uses by acquiring renewable energy.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich views renewable energy as a potential economic development tool.

A recent report by the American Wind Energy Association concluded that $4.2 billion in economic development is at risk unless the setback requirement is changed.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce has waded into the debate. Although it doesn’t specifically endorse Hite’s amendment, it supports a more reasonable wind setback policy, said Zachary Frymier, the chamber’s director for energy and environment.

Also benefiting the wind power industry is the state’s renewable energy standard, which calls for 12.5 percent of the electricity sold by investor-owned utilities in the state to be generated by green sources by 2025.

The Ohio House voted in March to eliminate the mandates, but the Senate has yet to act on the proposal.

The right-leaning Buckeye Institute recently released a report that said the renewable energy mandates will cost jobs over time because it will force companies to pay more for their power and less on expanding their businesses.

Proponents of renewable energy question the accuracy of the Buckeye Institute’s conclusions.