Although they would be built in Seneca County if approved, decisions on wind turbine projects to generate electricity are not made locally.
Investigations and decisions fall under the jurisdiction of the Ohio Power Siting Board, a section of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that investigates proposed energy-related projects such as construction of pipelines and wind farms to decide if they are in the public’s best interest.
However, local government entities, organizations and individuals can become involved in projects and make their views known by making informal comments, by attending and testifying at public hearings and by legally filing for interventions with OPSB.
According to its website, OPSB takes into consideration an eight-point set of criteria to determine whether a project should be approved or disapproved.
The probable environmental impact of the proposed facility.
Whether the facility represents the minimum adverse environmental impact, considering available technology and the nature and economics of alternatives.
The need for any transmission facility.
That the facility is consistent with regional plans for expansion of the electric power grid of the electric systems serving Ohio and interconnected systems and that the facility will serve the interests of electric system economy and reliability.
That the facility will comply with all air and water pollution and solid waste disposal laws and regulations.
The facility will serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.
The facility’s impact on the continued agricultural viability of any land in an existing agricultural district.
The facility incorporates maximum feasible water conservation practices considering available technology and the nature and economics of various alternatives.
Companies proposing wind farms are required to research these topics and include information and reports as part of the application process.
Details of all filings with OPSB on each of the three projects can be found at the OPSB website, www.opsb.ohio.gov, by using the case number and/or project name.
Another factor in the equation is Seneca County’s status as an Alternative Energy Zone.
Prior to the applications of any of the current wind projects and prior to the terms of the any of the current commissioners, a former board approved an Alternative Energy Zone in Seneca County in 2011.
“None of the current commissioners were on the board at that time,” said a news release from the county commissioners office. “We are unsure of the numbers, but landowners have been signing leases with private companies to potentially take part in these projects since before 2011.”
An Alternative Energy Zone, made possible through Ohio Senate Bill 232, provides a method to reduce taxes on alternative energy projects. AEZs are designated on a county-by-county basis and provide developers with incentives to locate projects in these counties. In addition to Seneca County, Sandusky and Crawford counties have AEZs in place as well as several other counties in Ohio, the news release said.
Since the 2011 AEZ approval, the commissioners have not taken a vote related to wind turbine projects, the news release said.
“There have been two motions to rescind the AEZ, but both failed to receive a second and died on the floor,” the news release said. “The siting process for the projects is not handled by local zoning but is administered by the Ohio Power Siting Board. The state government establishes what it deems as safe setback requirements.”
The AEZ allows alternative energy companies to make payments in lieu of taxes instead of using the traditional tax structure, the news release said. The PILOT payment is $9,000 per megawatt generated, or $1.8 million for a 200 MW facility.
The news release said the county commissioners have filed for interventions in the Seneca Wind and Republic Wind projects.
“Parties may intervene for or against the project, but the county did neither,” the news release said. “The county retained counsel and is to intervene in both projects, but with no policy statement attached. The thinking behind this decision is to have a seat at the table during negotiations/discussion.
“Those without counsel may take part in the public hearing and cannot participate in the adjudicatory hearing,” the news release said. “Also, those that participate in the adjudicatory hearing may not also participate in the public hearing.”
Formal sworn testimony at public hearings becomes part of the case record and is considered by the board in its decision.
However, people who wish to make informal comments may do so by including the case number of the project and sending them to OPSB.
Informal comments may be submitted by mailing them in writing to The Ohio Power Siting Board, 180 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215; calling (866) 270-6772 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; or by using the online contact form at www.opsb.ohio.gov/
While the process is regulated by the Ohio Revised Code, the impact on local residents isn’t as cut and dried.
Broadly stated, the two views of constructing wind farms in Seneca County seem to be economic benefits and landowner rights versus the health and safety of residents who live in or near the proposed sites, quality of life, environmental impacts and a potential decline in property values.