State Rep. Bill Reineke announced Tuesday night he changed his stance on wind setback regulations that could determine the future of wind energy projects in Seneca and Sandusky counties.
In April, local government officials and school representatives were joined by Reineke, R-Tiffin, at a press conference to urge lawmakers to support Senate Bill 238. The bill would loosen setback restrictions passed in 2014, which many officials say slowed wind energy production in Ohio.
Tuesday night, Reineke clarified his position in a Facebook post.
“Over the past several months, I have taken time to conduct due diligence in understanding both sides of the wind setback debate and specifically how the 88th House District feels on the topic. I have taken the time to listen, engage and evaluate how my constituents view reducing the wind turbine setback requirements,” he states.
“Based on my continued engagement with the constituents, I have come to the conclusion that no changes should be made to Ohio’s current wind turbine setbacks. Under current law, the setbacks can be reduced if ‘good neighbor’ waivers are reached with affected landowners in the project footprint. Property rights are key and landowners on both sides of this issue have valid arguments. In pursuit of a compromise, it is unfair for one set of landowners to completely win this debate, and property rights should never be subject to a vote.”
Reineke, who represents Sandusky County and most of Seneca County, states the current setback law, approved in 2014, provides “sufficient protection for the health, safety and welfare of the district, but also allows the free market to work.
“If a wind developer and an affected neighboring landowner can come to an agreement, which results in a waiver being signed, then that is all that should be required,” he states in the post.
He later states, “This has been a contentious issue that I have personally wrestled with during these past several months, as valid arguments have been presented by both sides.
“It is my sincere hope that our community can maintain a sense of civility in our discourse with each other. This issue has been divisive and pitted neighbors against each other.”
Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner, who earlier this month suggested the county rescind the Alternative Energy Zone, which helps make wind projects more financially viable, applauded Reineke.
“Bill has been an excellent representative,” he said. “He did the research that was necessary, listened to the voices of the people and came to the conclusion that we don’t need to be less restrictive (with setback regulations) on behalf of energy companies,” he said. “We need to leave the setbacks the way they are, that’s the outcry from a number of citizens. He listened and did his research.”
Kerschner said it would be logical to expect other state legislators to follow Reineke’s lead.
“(Reineke) is the one in the middle of the fray,” he said. “You can’t ignore legislators that have listened to the folks and have come to the conclusion.”
SB 238 was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in December, but it hasn’t come to a vote.
A spokeswoman for State Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, who chairs the committee, said the bill was not on the agenda for yesterday’s meeting.
The committee discussed but did not vote on Substitute House Bill 114 Wednesday, which has a provision loosening setback restrictions similar to SB 238. The substitute bill also was discussed last week, when about 25 people gave testimony and 35 submitted written testimony opposing the legislation.
State Sen. Dave Burke, R-Marysville, who represents Ohio’s 26th Senate District, which includes Seneca County, said he voted for the existing 2014 law.
“I support it. Any compromise to that law would have to require significant compromise towards local control and in favor of all affected parties,” he said. “While a landowner has property rights, which I fully support and current law allows, wind turbines are large objects which changes a landscape beyond the property owner who holds them.
“Additionally, wind energy as a form of generation is not currently sustainable to meet demand. As such, existing generation methods are not degraded or replaced regardless of the number of turbines.
“In order to disrupt the landscape and quality of life my friends and neighbors enjoy today, such disruption would have to bring significant benefit to quality of life. It is my opinion today that the proposed legislation on wind generation does not meet that threshold. I have not engaged my constituents in Seneca County on this issue simply because I have not seen any compromise worthy of their time.”
Several wind turbine projects are possible for Seneca and surrounding counties. The two most imminent are the Republic Wind Project, administered by APEX Clean Energy, and the Seneca Wind Project, administered by sPower.
The Republic Wind Project could bring 55-58 turbines, mostly in Seneca County. The proposed project area in Seneca and Sandusky counties covers about 30,000 acres – roughly south of Green Springs, north of Republic and southwest of Bellevue.
Seneca Wind also would be a 200-megawatt wind farm. The project, which is to have about 70 turbines, would be located across about 25,000 acres in Scipio, Reed, Venice, Eden and Bloom townships.
Seneca Anti-Wind Union members appreciated Reineke’s research and the clarification on his position.
A release from the organization states the group is urging people to be cautious of “good neighbor agreements” mentioned in Reineke’s statement.
“While some neighbors may be open to the idea of having their property encumbered by the closer proximity of a turbine in exchange for nominal compensation, others may not wish to do so for any amount of money and the situation should not be forced upon them by state law,” the release states. “It is our hope that other state legislators will view this issue with as much diligence as Reineke has, because the future of our communities depend on it.”
Seneca County Commissioner Shayne Thomas, who has offered support for reduced setback restrictions, said he thinks landowners who hold leases for turbines might be disappointed with Reineke’s statement.
“There should be some solace in the fact that he refuses to support schemes to vote on other people’s property rights,” he said. “I genuinely believe that (Reineke) wants the community to heal and to take this as the first step toward acceptance of wind development in Seneca County. The point that Reineke makes is that there is a path forward for (wind) development.”
Representatives from APEX and sPower declined to comment Wednesday night.
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