COLUMBUS – A decision appeared imminent on APEX Clean Energy’s Republic Wind Farm in 2019, as the Ohio Power Siting Board held a series of hearings on the controversial wind energy project and heard heated testimony from residents and company officials.
Instead, members of the Seneca Anti-Wind Union (SAWU), APEX officials and local residents still are waiting to see, almost two years later, if up to 50 wind turbines will be built in Seneca County and a small portion of Sandusky County.
Matt Butler, a siting board spokesman, said the Republic Wind case remains pending before the OPSB.
“At this point, we’re really just waiting for the board to schedule the case for a decision,” Butler said Tuesday.
Although the bulk of APEX’s turbines would be installed throughout Seneca County, there are a few proposed for Sandusky County.
Decision could come soon, or in a year
Chris Aichholz, a SAWU group member, said Wednesday he thought it was hard to say when there might be an OPSB ruling on the case.
Aichholz said there had been additional hearings on the case in 2020.
He said Sam Randazzo’s resignation as Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chairman in November could be a factor in the case’s delay, although he conceded he didn’t know if that explained why it had taken so long.
A decision could come soon, Aichholz said.
“Or it could be a year,” he said.
If OPSB approves the project, Aichholz said SAWU hoped there were enough conditions attached to the approval to protect residents, wildlife, the water supply and the environment.
Dahvi Wilson, APEX’s vice president of public affairs, said the company also hopes for a decision soon in the Republic Wind case.
No changes expected to plan originally submitted
Wilson said APEX has been working closely with OPSB staff, and is looking forward to a ruling on the case.
She said the company’s plans for Republic Wind have not been changed as a result of the pandemic.
“We are still anticipating the project to produce 200 MW of clean energy (enough to power about 62,400 homes per year),” Wilson said, noting the project will include up to 50 wind turbines.
Wilson said, though the pandemic did require the state to develop some new virtual tools for holding OPSB-related hearings, it had not had any other meaningful impacts on project plans.
“Here and across the country, the pandemic has shown a spotlight on the need to make sure our rural economies are built for resiliency, and wind energy facilities like Republic Wind provide an excellent opportunity to bring new stability and diversification to these communities,” Wilson said Wednesday.
If wind project OK’d, SAWU plans to appeal
Aichholz said SAWU planned to appeal OPSB’s ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court if the power siting board approves the Republic Wind project.
If OPSB approves the project this year, Apex hopes to complete construction of Republic Wind in 2022.
Ohio Sen. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 52 that would allow residents to decide whether a wind or solar development project is a good fit for their area.
According to Reineke, under this bill, a certificate issued (or amendment to such) by the OPSB for project(s) that fall within the area of a township becomes effective on the 90th day after it is issued unless a referendum petition is filed with the local board of elections.
A referendum can be filed if the trustees in the affected township(s) file a resolution allowing public input, a resolution requiring public input, or, due to a conflict of interest, are incapable of voting on either of the above resolutions.
In an e-mailed statement to the News-Messenger, Aichholz said Reineke’s bill returns something the state took away from local communities a decade ago, the ability of Ohio citizens to determine the future of their own community through local control.
‘Decision belongs in the hands of local residents’
“Renewable energy projects are unlike any other kind of generation facility because they transform huge areas into industrial zones instead of just a few dozen acres. Some communities will welcome them and some will not. But it has become widely recognized by state leaders that the decision belongs in the hands of local residents and not a government agency,” Aichholz said.
He said the wind turbine setback distance part of the bill requires any projects that are built will have to ensure the safety of neighbors on their own property.
Aichholz said the SAWU views that as a position “no reasonable person, business, or organization could oppose and still retain credibility.”
A companion bill in the Ohio House is scheduled to be introduced Friday, Aichholz said.
Wilson said SB 52 would set a dangerous precedent that would unleash a mountain of uncertainty and chaos for businesses across the state in a number of different industries.
She said the renewable energy industry already has invested over $2 billion in Ohio.
If passed, SB 52 will do further damage to an already struggling economy, Wilson said.
“To retroactively change the law and pull the rug out from under these companies and their landowners is unconstitutional. This law will deprive Ohio of economic development opportunities at a time when they are most needed,” Wilson said.
Wilson added Ohio is facing a $2 billion budget deficit and suffering what she called crippling job losses due to the pandemic.
She said renewable energy projects would create millions of dollars of tax revenue, create both construction and long-term jobs, and contribute to diversifying the state’s economy.
In 2018, the News-Messenger reported the APEX project represented a $65 million capital investment for both counties.
Butler said OPSB typically meets once a month, with the board’s next meeting scheduled for Thursday.
He said he had no reason to believe that Republic Wind Farm case will be on that meeting’s agenda.
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