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Bill allows county commissioners to kill wind, solar projects

COLUMBUS – Five Republicans joined Democrats in opposition on Wednesday as the Ohio Senate voted 20-13 for a bill that would give county commissioners direct say on the placement of wind farms and solar fields within their communities.

House Bill 52 is generally supported by some local officials and residents fighting proposed projects in Sandusky, Seneca, Allen, Defiance, and other counties while it is opposed by the renewable energy sector, local chambers of commerce, unions, and local governments that financially benefit from such projects.

Sen. Bill Reineke (R., Tiffin), who sponsored the bill with Sen. Rob McColley (R., Napoleon), dismissed arguments that there is already local input in the decisions of the five-member Ohio Power Siting Board as to where such projects would be located.

“I’m telling you that in Seneca County, my home county, we now have four to six projects in the queue,” Mr. Reineke said. “When you consider all the letters, the testimonies, the resolutions against these projects that have come from constituents, township trustees, commissioners, mayors, etc., it becomes clear that the current process has no regard for local input.

“This bill is about fixing the fact that we currently have no voice and we have no seat at the table,” he said.

The measure now goes to the House where another bill has been introduced.

The measure started out as an effort to give township residents the opportunity to veto local wind and solar farm projects at the polls, but it morphed in recent weeks into empowering county commissioners to directly intervene, either proactively or after a project has already been proposed.

Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), the sole negative vote from the northwest Ohio delegation, cited northwest Ohio solar growth with Perrysburg’s First Solar, a world leader in manufacturing solar panels, and the potential for a wind farm on Lake Erie.

“There’s no surprise that renewable energy is the future of energy generation…,” she said. “We heard from a lot of school districts where it’s a revenue source for them. The growth, it’s not going to stop, and we are seeing more private investment and consumer demand for clean and renewable energy.

“If passed, Senate Bill 52 will hinder Ohio’s ability to capitalize on that investment…and drive out these companies that have made clean-energy pledges, essentially stopping our ability to keep up with the market trends,” she said.

The bill would require wind and solar developers to hold public meetings to reveal specific details of their projects, including their geographic footprints, at least 90 days to nine months before the plan is filed for OPSB consideration.

That would trigger a 90-day period during which county commissioners could outright deny a project, limit its geographic scope, or do nothing, effectively giving tacit approval to the plans. County commissioners could also act proactively to generally ban wind and solar projects within their jurisdictions or specifically create energy districts where they could be located.

The bill would also add a locally affected county commissioner and township trustee to the OPSB when it comes to making final siting decisions.

Breaking ranks with fellow Republicans to join the chamber’s eight Democrats in opposition were Sens. Niraj Antani (R., Miamisburg), Stephanie Kunze (R., Hilliard), Bob Peterson (R., Sabina), Matt Dolan (R., Chagrin Falls), and Frank Hoagland (R., Adena).