BELLEVUE – Newly introduced bills in the Ohio General Assembly would give residents a say on whether industrial wind turbines should be built in their communities.
Apex Clean Energy is developing the Emerson Creek – about 71 wind turbines in Erie and Huron counties – and Republic Wind – about 47 wind turbines in Sandusky and Seneca counties – projects in the area.
Both plans have faced stiff opposition from residents who have concerns about the possible impact wind turbines could have on their communities. The residents, however, have very little say in the process.
Under the current law, the authority to approve or deny wind energy projects belongs to the Ohio Power Siting Board.
But Ohio Rep. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, and Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, introduced companion bills Wednesday in the Ohio House and Senate that would give communities a chance to vote on the issue.
The bill in the house has several cosponsors, including Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, who represents Erie and Ottawa counties.
“I like the bill for the reason that it provides a local option for residents to vote on whether they want a wind farm,” Swearingen said. “It leaves the option to the local community.”
The bill would make it so after the board approves a wind project, the certificate wouldn’t go into effect for 90 days. During that time, opponents could collect signatures to place a referendum allowing residents to vote to approve or deny the project.
For the referendum to be placed on a ballot, the number of signatures collected must at least equal 8 percent of the total number of people who voted in the last governor’s election.
“It’s trying to strike a balance between not burdening people but also setting a reasonable threshold,” Swearingen said.
The bill has the support of the Seneca Anti-Wind Union, a group of citizens concerned about the placement of wind turbines in Northwest Ohio.
The union put out a news release on the bill which said it was important to all area residents because it gives them a voice in a decision that would change the landscape and environment of their communities.
“No other kind of economic development transforms entire communities into heavy industrial areas without the approval of local residents,” according to the statement. “Wind developers have no reason to adjust their projects to fit concerns of a specific community, but instead concentrate only on meeting state guidelines. Those guidelines can not and do not address issues that are specific to any given community, but instead try to apply a ‘fits all’ approach to siting wind projects.”
Drew Christensen, a spokesman for Apex, however, believes Ohio has one of the most rigorous permitting processes for a wind facility and the board is more than qualified to evaluate a project for safety, environmental impact and community benefit.
“Adding yet another step in Ohio’s permitting process creates double-jeopardy for project developers, and another layer of cost and risk to the end of an already arduous permitting process,” Christensen said. “Not only does this severely discourage wind energy development in the state, it also sets a dangerous precedent for other types of business investment.”
Opponents of the bill have also made claims that it would infringe on a person’s land rights by telling them they couldn’t place a wind turbine on their property that they wanted.
“This proposal effectively gives folks’ neighbors veto rights over how they use their property,” Christensen said. “What would be next? Neighbors being allowed to veto new hog barns? Passing this type of legislation would endanger the property rights of landowners across Northern Ohio and would send a threatening message to businesses considering investments in Ohio.”
But the union doesn’t see it that way.
“The wind industry has said repeatedly that there are communities that welcome wind projects. Far from being anti-wind, this bill will direct projects to those areas where they are a good fit and ensure that wind development moves forward smoothly,” the release states. “The current process, which uses state force to locate projects, tends to incite blanket opposition to wind projects which causes a drag on the industry as a whole.”
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