ATTICA – More than 500 people from Seneca and surrounding counties gathered for a Seneca Anti-Wind Union meeting at the Attica Independent Fairgrounds Thursday night to discuss pending wind projects in the area.
Among those in attendance were 88th Ohio House District State Rep. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin; his opponent in the upcoming election, Rachel Crooks; Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner; and his opponent in November, Cheryl Radin-Norman. The group heard from three speakers, including one from out-of-state, who each discussed why they believe wind turbine projects are a bad idea.
Ron Kelbley, a member of the anti-wind union, said there are six proposed projects in the area, including four which would include turbines in Seneca County. He said eventually about 218 turbines could be installed in the county.
Kelbley said the Republic Wind Project, facilitated by APEX Clean Energy, has submitted an application to the Ohio Power Siting board, while the Seneca Wind Project, run by sPower, is in the application stage.
The Republic project is in Seneca and Sandusky counties and covers about 30,000 acres – roughly south of Green Springs, north of Republic and southwest of Bellevue. The project plans for about 58 turbines. The proposed turbines are about 591 feet tall and the blades are about 445 feet long, Kelbley said.
Natasha Montague, a spokeswoman for APEX, said the Republic project is to bring about $38.8 million in landowner payments, $36 million in additional tax revenue for schools and about $18 million in new revenue for counties and townships over a 30-year period. Montague said construction would create about 100 local construction jobs and 10 long-term local operations jobs.
She said 400 landowners have signed up to participate in the project and the project has received support from community groups including Seneca East Schools, Bellevue City Schools, Seneca Valley Cattlemen’s Association, Heidelberg University Green Club, Seneca Economic and Industrial Development Corp., Seneca Regional Planning, City of Bellevue and commissioners from Seneca and Sandusky counties.
The Seneca Wind Project would stretch across about 25,000 acres and could include 70 turbines, Kelbley said.
Dan Williamson, a spokesman for sPower, said the project would provide a significant economic stimulus to the county in the short- and long-term.
“We value our relationships with local stakeholders and we will work closely with the local communities to ensure this project will be a good neighbor and a community benefit for many years to come,” he said.
Other future projects that could include turbines in Seneca County are the Honey Creek Project and the Emerson West Project.
Chris Zeman, a leader of Seneca Anti-Wind Union, was concerned about turbines taking over the county landscape.
“If you really think about it, this whole area is going to be covered by turbines,” he said.
Kevon Martis, a senior policy fellow at the Energy and Environmental Legal Institute in Washington, D.C., discussed pending changes to wind turbine setback regulations being discussed by the Ohio General Assembly. The changes would loosen restrictions and change how they are measured.
Zeman said turbines now must be 1,125 feet from property lines, but if a bill sponsored by Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, is approved, the measurement would change to about 1,450 feet from the nearest structure on neighboring property, instead of the property line.
Martis said Michigan allows local government to make zoning changes. He said in Ohio, the state makes these changes for wind projects.
Martis said wind energy opponents should talk to state officials.
Seneca County commissioners each have signed a memo offering support for wind turbine projects in the county and Reineke also is on record supporting the projects and less restrictive setbacks.
Martis said if looser setback restrictions are approved, people could be living in structures within 1,640 feet of turbines; that is the distance suggested in a wind company’s health and safety manual as an evacuation radius for fires. He said wind turbine companies do not typically release their manuals, but he recommends states require this.
Martis said voters in five Michigan counties ousted every county commissioner over wind issues. He also said every one of 17 referendums on the fate of turbine projects was rejected.
Martis said in Ohio, the power siting board, which he called “unelected bureaucrats” are making the decisions.
“Speak to the folks in Columbus,” he told opponents of the projects.
Sam Randazzo, a Columbus attorney who represents a group in greenwich that has fought a wind turbine project for about five years, also said activism in Columbus is necessary.
Randazzo said the siting board asks residents for comments, but in Greenwich, 25 documents containing public comments were ignored by the panel.
“There was not one word mentioned by the power siting board on those comments,” he said.
Randazzo said opponents face an “institutional struggle.”
Kelbley cited several negative issues with turbines, including noise, impact on property values, shadow flicker and low-frequency infrasound that he said can make people sick.
He said wind companies will not make a guarantee against those impacts and others. He said contracts signed by lessees state they may experience these negative issues.
Zeman said the group’s goal is to vouch for safe, more restrictive setback requirements and to find a way to allow people who are affected by wind projects to vote on stopping them.
“We have a right to vote,” he said.
Deb Hay, who is a member of the union, said a proposed amendment to state legislation being referred to as the McColley amendment, could allow residents in the footprint of wind projects to have a vote on fate of the projects. The amendment is being championed by Senator Rob McColley, R-Napoleon.
Zeman said a petition is circulating asking Seneca County commissioners to rescind the county’s Alternative Energy Zone, which helps make wind turbine projects financially feasible.