There soon may be more wind farms in Ohio.
The Ohio Senate’s GOP leadership is making an effort to encourage wind-farm development in the state by eliminating restrictive rules that previous GOP leadership slipped into a budget bill four years ago.
The 2014 changes lengthened the distance a wind turbine can be to an adjoining property line to 1,125 feet – rather than to the nearest home on adjacent property – and ended any further wind project applications in the state.
The Senate is proposing to relax those restrictions. Yet at the same time it is making changes to other state energy laws including those requiring electric companies to sell more energy generated by wind, solar and hydro projects and to develop programs that help customers use less electricity.
Even more daunting, all of the changes are presented in substantially re-written legislation approved a year ago by the Ohio House, which is not expected to go along with a total make-over of its work in H.B. 114.
The House version, for example, kept the restrictive wind-turbine setback rules and made renewable energy mandates voluntary, that is, no longer mandated after 2026.
The Senate rewrite restores renewable energy mandates but limits them to 8.5 percent by 2026 of the total amount of power sold by a supplier.
Sen. William Beagle, R-Tipp City, near Dayton, introduced substitute H.B. 114 late Wednesday afternoon in a meeting of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The decision to introduce the bill had not been made until the afternoon.
There was no formal hearing, instead a discussion about the bill being an effort to start a process.
Committee Chairman Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, made it clear that he is not interested in fast tracking the bill.
“We have no intentions of passing (it) this next week,” he said. At least one lobbyist said he thought passage, if it happens, might not occur until the “lame duck” legislative sessions in the last few weeks of the year.
The proposed bill would also create new law for wind projects generating between 5 and 50 megawatts and granting county authorities – rather than the Ohio Power Siting Board – the authority to permit such projects. The siting board currently has jurisdiction over wind projects of 5 megawatts and up.
And the Senate proposal would create new law to allow private wind farms – generating power for on-site use – of up to 50 megawatts. Those installations would also escape review by the OPSB.
The proposal would also require business and industry that want to opt out of a utility’s once-mandatory customer-paid energy efficiency programs to show the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio how it intends to track reductions. And it requires the PUCO to review those reports and demand additional documentation if necessary. The House bill has no such requirements.
The Senate bill would not require power companies to show that all parts of an energy-efficiency program are cost effective, as determined by the PUCO. And it appears to not address a House proposal allowing utilities to count any savings attributable to energy efficiency.
But the Senate bill would allow power companies to “bank” past energy-efficiency savings and use them to grab a portion of those savings as “incentives” to continuing offering the customer-paid efficiency programs.
That provision got an instant response from the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.
“Energy efficiency is a good thing that we encourage consumers to do with or without utility involvement,” said Molly Mcguire, spokeswoman for the OCC.
“Our preliminary concern about the new legislation is that utilities will continue to operate energy efficiency programs, that cost Ohioans hundreds of millions of dollars, with too much profit at the particular expense of the many consumers who do not participate in the programs.”
Corrected by the author to state that the Ohio Power siting board currently has jurisdiction over wind farms of 5 megawatts and higher.
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