REPUBLIC, Ohio – Plans to erect giant wind turbines in rural Seneca County drew a large and vocal group of residents again, this time with nearly 500 people packing an old school gymnasium that Scipio Township had purchased and turned into its maintenance building.
There was so much interest that almost 300 of those people stood for the entire meeting, unable to get a seat. The meeting, called by Seneca County commissioners in hopes of coming to some sort of compromise with the county’s five townships, was held Wednesday night and lasted about 90 minutes.
Several residents who spoke made it clear to Commissioner Shayne Thomas that they had no intention of softening their fierce opposition to the Seneca Wind project proposed by sPower of Utah. A different project for Seneca and a small part of Sandusky County, Republic Wind, was filed earlier but its developer, Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., is looking at modifying it.
Mr. Thomas has taken the brunt of criticism from residents opposed to those two projects because he will not sign off on a plan to let the county prosecutor represent the townships at upcoming Ohio Power and Siting Board hearings.
The townships are forced to seek outside counsel because county Prosecutor Derek DeVine has said he will only represent the townships if consent is unanimous. Mr. Thomas and Commissioner Holly Stacy have hired a former Apex attorney, Michael Settineri, to represent the county commission for the OPSB proceedings at a rate of $480 an hour. Many believe the county will pay more than $100,000 for his expertise.
The Seneca County board, by a 2-1 majority, is on record in support of wind power, but Ms. Stacy has said little publicly.
Mr. Thomas infuriated critics by testifying before an Ohio Senate committee to roll back setback rules in June, 2017, a move made in support of the wind energy industry before many residents knew about the projects.
The other commissioner, Mike Kerschner, has joined critics in opposition to the projects after initially being a supporter.
“If you have truly called this meeting for a compromise, I want to tell you that time has passed,” Chris Aichholz of the citizens group that opposes the projects, the Seneca Anti-Wind Union, told Mr. Thomas.
Another member of that group, Greg Smith, said township trustees “have a responsibility to intervene [at the upcoming OPSB hearings] on behalf of their citizens.”
Eden, Reed and Scipo townships passed resolutions in opposition in recent days. Bloom Township, which has three board members holding leases, has not acted. Venice Township will consider a resolution Monday.
Mr. Smith produced copies of a lease signed between the trust of Mr. Thomas’ mother-in-law, Carolyn Falter Jolliff, of Upper Sandusky, and Honey Creek Wind, another project put forth by Apex.
“It would seem you and your wife are beneficiaries of this trust,” Mr. Smith said. “There’s a high probability Commissioner Thomas has a conflict of interest. There is now even more reason for the townships to intervene.”
Mr. Thomas did not speak during the meeting, but told The Blade afterward he took issue with Mr. Smith’s allegations.
“I don’t have a conflict of interest,” Mr. Thomas said.
He said during an interview after the meeting he thought it was important to bring all commissioners and township officials together for a special meeting to explain their positions on wind turbines face to face.
“I think it’s really important to come together as a community and have these conversations,” he said. “This is democracy in action. Listening and agreeing are not the same thing. … I thought it would just be good to be in the same room and interact.”
Dan Williamson, sPower spokesman, also did not speak at the meeting but told The Blade that Seneca Wind critics are “passionate people.”
“They’re very well-spoken,” Mr. Williamson said. “We respect their views.”
SPower’s proposed 85-turbine Seneca Wind farm is estimated to cost between $275 million and $300 million and is expected to generate $56 million in tax revenue for schools and other local government bodies. Its turbines would be 652 feet tall, higher than any except a wind farm in Texas.
Apex Clean Energy’s $92 million Republic Wind project calls for 58 turbines, each about 591 feet tall, spread across different rural Seneca County townships.
Apex’s Emerson Creek Wind project, which calls for 65 to 85 turbines, would be mostly in nearby Erie and Huron counties, and its proposed Honey Creek Wind project calls for about 80 turbines in Seneca and Crawford counties.
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