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Hundreds pack Seneca County anti-wind farm meeting in Tiffin

TIFFIN – For the second time since May, a grass roots group called the Seneca Anti-Wind Union has drawn 500 or more area residents to a rally in opposition of proposals to build commercial-scale wind farms throughout Seneca County and a portion of Sandusky County.

And the latest event beat the drum of private property rights and self-governance as hard as ever.

The Camden Falls Reception & Conference Center was packed Tuesday night with people who came to hear updates on the proposed Seneca Wind and Republic Wind projects. Although negotiations for lease agreements began with property owners as far back as a decade ago, many did not hear details of the projects until last April, event organizers claimed.

The developer behind Seneca Wind, Utah-based sPower, wants to erect up to 85 of the nation’s tallest turbines across five Seneca County townships. Those machines would be 652 feet high – 32 feet higher than the tallest building in Columbus. The only other wind turbines in America that are 650 feet or taller are a few in Texas, Dan Williamson, sPower spokesman, told The Blade before the meeting.

Republic Wind is being developed by Charlottesville, Va.-based Apex Clean Energy. Its original plan called for 80 turbines to be erected across five Seneca County townships and Sandusky County’s York Township, but was later changed to 66 turbines with a higher generating capacity. Its most recent plan called for 58.

SPower is expecting approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board in early 2019, possibly January. Apex in August told the OPSB it was putting a hold on its application to consider another possible change to it. Its project has changed as the industry develops larger, more efficient machines.

The latest Seneca Anti-Wind Union meeting is a follow-up to one it held in Attica, Ohio, last May that also drew 500 or more people.

Organizers said it shows the opposition movement has not at all waned and, in fact, have scheduled two more meetings at smaller venues for next week, one in Bettsville, Ohio on Oct. 23 and another in New Riegel on Oct. 25. Both are being held at American Legion halls at 6:30 p.m.

The projects have not been without their fierce supporters, too.

Dozens attended a pro-wind open house in Green Springs, Ohio, last December when industry representatives courted landowners to help support their efforts to reverse what they see as onerous setback rules the Ohio General Assembly passed and Gov. John Kasich signed into law in 2014.

Seneca County Commissioner Shayne Thomas testified before an Ohio Senate committee to roll back those setback rules in June, 2017. The commission, by a 2-1 majority, is officially on record in support of the projects, with Commissioner Holly Stacey previously joining Mr. Thomas in favor of them.

Both sides agree there is a lot of anger and fury that strikes to the heart of values Americans hold dear, such as private property rights.

State Rep. Bill Reineke (R., Tiffin) opened Tuesday night’s event by saying the debate over wind energy in that part of northwest Ohio poses a “grave concern about an issue that would transform our lives as we know it.”

He said he was speaking about private property rights.

“We are concerned – very concerned – how these wind turbines will change our lives,” Mr. Reineke said. “This is what bothers me the most: The fact we have so many outside interests coming into our area and trying to suggest they know better about how we can live our lives.”

Mr. Reineke’s Democratic challenger, Rachel Crooks, of Clyde, Ohio, told The Blade she’s an environmentalist who believes Seneca County needs to do more about climate change, but isn’t convinced wind energy is the solution. She said it’s important to respect local governance.

Decisions on projects over 5 megawatts, such as these two, are left up to the state power-siting board in Columbus.

Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner, who likewise is up for re-election this fall, is the only commissioner of Seneca County’s three-member board who opposes the two wind-energy projects.

“Everybody running for commissioner and for state representative are against these wind turbines and have said so publicly,” Mr. Kerschner said. The fact is you [Seneca Anti-Wind Union] are as strong as anything I have seen in Seneca County.”

Greg Smith, a Bloom Township resident and Seneca Anti-Wind Union member, said during a lengthy overview he believes it is ironic that improvements are being sought for Tiffin at a time public officials “might scar and devastate rural Seneca County.”

He said he is motivated by his “passion to protect property rights and quality of life” and that he hasn’t worked all of his life “to be told to install blinds to keep me from looking out at my own property.” The latter was a reference to his concerns about strobe-like shadow flicker.

Companies behind the projects, though, have said they believe most concerns can be resolved to residents’ satisfaction, and that the economic impact will be enormous.

Seneca Wind alone is expected to generate $56 million for Seneca County, several townships, and school districts over its 30-year lifetime, Mr. Williamson has said.

John Arehart III, Apex senior development manager, has told The Blade that Republic Wind could generate as much as $92 million for the region.

But he and others have said much depends on what the legislature does with the setback rules, if anything.

A 20-page report written in 2017 by two Washington-based industry groups, the American Wind Energy Association and the Wind Energy Foundation, asserted Ohio’s losses in potential economic development since the 2014 rules took effect had reached a staggering $4.2 billion.