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Board will decide fate of windmill farm

BELLEVUE – Opponents of a local wind farm won a major victory this week with the Erie County commissioners, but who wins the war on wind turbines will be decided in Columbus.

The Erie County commissioners voted to deny the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) requested by Apex Clean Energy for its Emerson Creek Project, which would see the construction of approximately 71 wind turbines in Erie and Huron counties.

“Bear in mind, you folks still need to go to the Ohio Power Sighting Board and that’s going to be a battle for another day,” commissioner Pat Shenigo said to residents who made their opposition to the project known Tuesday.

The siting board in Columbus holds the power to approve the Emerson Creek Wind Project and any other wind farm above five megawatts.

“The history of the board goes back to 1972 and was established to review proposals for major utility facilities,” board spokesman Matt Butler said. “That includes electric transmission lines and PILOT plans whether it be for gas, coal or more recently wind.”

But some people, like the Seneca Anti-wind Union – a group of citizens who oppose turbines in Northwest Ohio – think local decisions should be left in the hands of the affected community.

“We believe that we should have local control over the approval of these industrial wind turbine projects,” the union said. “These projects will have a major and lasting impact on our area and we feel that the people it’s going to affect should have some say in the project.”

The Process

The board is reviewing Apex’s application – which was filed Jan. 31 – for completeness to ensure all necessary studies have been completed and relevant information is included.

When it’s completed, Apex will have 15 days to send out a notice through the mail to all property owners, tenants and adjacent property owners to the project. The board will start interrogatory and discovery depositions, where the applicant and the board exchange information and questions.

“A county, township or a third-party can intervene in the process and make a request of the applicant at this point,” Butler said.

The board will also send out staff from each agency to the proposed site of the turbines to confirm information from the application. The findings are compiled into a report.

“The staff report would be the recommendation to approve or deny the application, or to make additional conditions,” Butler said. “It has to be complete 15 days before the public hearing.”

Apex has to send out a second public notice through a newspaper seven to 21 days before the hearing,, which will be hosted by the board at a location near the site.

“The public hearing is held with the purpose to allow the board to hear opinions from the community about the project,” Butler said.

The developers and any other interested parties will then meet for an adjudicatory hearing at the board’s office, where evidence can be presented for or against the project.

“This an opportunity for intervening groups, like citizen groups, to participate at a more formal level,” Butler said. “The applicants, board members and intervening groups can present evidence.”

Sometimes, the developer will accept a stipulation from another party, so the project can move forward. The board will then make its decision and parties displeased by it have 30 days to file an application for a rehearing.

“A lot of people think that means there will be another public hearing, but all it really means is the board is being asked to reconsider its decision,” Butler said. “If a party is still unhappy with the decision they can appeal.”

Board members

It’s comprised of 11 members – four of whom are legislators without a vote on the application. The following are the members with votes:

• The Ohio Public Utilities Commission Chairman

• The Ohio Environment and Protection Agency Director

• The Ohio Department of Agriculture Director

• The Ohio Development Services Agency Director

• The Ohio Department of Health Director

• The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director

• A public member who must be an engineer appointed by the governor

The chairman for the Public Utilities Commission acts as the chairman for the siting board as well. Governor Mike DeWine recently appointed Samuel Randazzo to serve as chairman.

But several environmental groups oppose the appointment because of Randazzo past as a critic of wind energy and a lobbyist for industrial energy consumers, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.