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Wind farm projects cause Seneca County dispute

TIFFIN – A pair of large-scale wind farms planned for rural Seneca County continue to drive a wedge into the community, as some townships have joined opponents seeking to block the developments, while the county stands formally behind the farms.

Seneca County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to hire a private attorney to represent the county during Ohio Power Siting Board proceedings regarding the Republic Wind and Seneca Wind projects. Combined, the two projects could generate about 400 megawatts of power.

Disputes about the projects have gone on for months.

Opponents of the project organized as the Seneca Anti-Wind Union, with signs in yards, crowded public meetings, and a petition drive meant to prompt the county to pull back from the project and to remove subsidies. Among complaints about the project is the size of the turbines, which, depending on the models used, could be about 600 feet tall.

Proponents, which include some property owners who leased land to the companies behind the project, some environmental groups, and the wind industry, have forged ahead, arguing the projects will provide tax revenue, jobs, and clean energy.

“It’s literally ripping apart our community piece by piece,” said Chris Aichholz of Seneca Anti-Wind Union.

Radio advertisements in recent days have targeted Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner for his vote earlier this year to rescind Seneca County’s alternative energy zone. Counties can, under state law, declare their entire county in such a zone, which automatically approves payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangements for qualifying alternative energy projects.

Seneca County has such a zone, and opponents of the project have thousands of signatures calling on the county to end it, though commissioners Shayne Thomas and Holly Stacy support the program. Both, however, spoke out against the radio advertisements, which were paid for by a group called Economic Prosperity Project.

Republic Wind, a subsidiary of Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., has a local hearing through the Ohio Power Siting Board scheduled for Oct. 2 in Green Springs, and an adjudicatory hearing scheduled for Oct. 15. Its project would be in parts of Seneca and Sandusky counties.

Mr. Thomas said after the commissioners’ meeting that it’s not yet clear what kind of legal assistance the county might need, but that private counsel was retained because the Seneca County prosecutor has a conflict of interest, as four Seneca County townships have moved to intervene before the state board.

Opponents said the conflict could have been settled by a waiver of attorney-client privilege, and that the county’s decision not to was wasteful.