Per Ohio law, industrial turbines in wind projects must be set back a certain distance from neighbors who are not part of the project. Each year, turbines used in new projects are getting bigger and bigger, from 250 feet tall a dozen years ago to about 600 to 650 feet today. That is as tall as the tallest building in Columbus.
In 2014, Ohio’s Legislature increased the setbacks by a marginal amount because of the increasing size of turbines. This caused a stir in the wind energy industry and it since has said repeatedly the change has shut down all wind development in Ohio. That is an odd thing to say considering there are currently three wind projects under development in our area alone.
Nevertheless, the wind industry has convinced a few Ohio representatives to introduce House Bill 223, a bill to reduce setbacks to pre-2014 standards in the name of increasing economic development in Ohio. This despite the fact that new turbines are much taller now than 2014. Again I mention, there are three projects in the Seneca County area moving along nicely under current setback rules.
But, even more importantly, the setback issue has very recently taken on an entirely new meaning. April 30, the Ohio Power Siting Board, the branch of the PUCO that oversees energy projects, held a hearing on wind turbine blade failure incidents which heretofore were not required to be reported to regulators. At the hearing, testimony was given documenting several actual blade failure incidents in which fragments weighing several pounds were thrown distances of several hundred feet farther than the new, shorter setback from occupied homes proposed in HB 223, and over twice as far as current setbacks from the neighbor’s property line. A June 2018 Windpower Engineering and Development article states there are an average of 3,800 blade failures globally per year. That is over 10 per day. Wind turbine blade failures have happened and will continue to happen in Ohio.
The wind turbine setback issue addressed by HB 223 is no longer about economic development, it is about public safety. It is good that we are talking about setbacks now because, in the interest of public safety, these wind turbine setbacks need to be increased, not decreased. It would be unconscionable for any lawmaker to support HB 223 as it is currently written, or any other legislation shortening setbacks, because it is a documented fact current setbacks already are too short. Economic development that so blatantly puts public safety in jeopardy is not development at all, it is regression. Lawmakers who choose that path would do so at their political peril.