Sen. Rob McColley, a Republican from Napoleon and a primary sponsor of the bill, said the legislation is necessary to protect the property rights of those residents who never expected to have towering wind turbines or fields of solar panels as their neighbors, and to face declining home values as a result. McColley, whose district includes the state’s largest collection of wind farms, primarily in Paulding and Van Wert counties, said developers have taken advantage of the lack of local control to transform large swaths of rural land.
CLEVELAND, Ohio – A bill making its way through the Ohio legislature would let local officials ban large wind and solar farms in their communities, usurping the authority that now rests with the Ohio Power Siting Board.
If adopted into law, Senate Bill 52 would place a severe damper on renewable energy projects in the state, according to advocates for wind and solar farms, but it would do more than that, says a prominent Republican.
It would change the rules midstream and endanger projects already in development, including in some cases after substantial investments have been made, said Sen. Matt Dolan, Republican from Chagrin Falls.
And that, he said, would send “a message to everyone that Ohio is not a stable place to invest in.”
Dolan was among five Republicans who joined eight Democrats to vote against the bill, which passed the Ohio Senate 20-13 on Wednesday.
Several business organizations including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce expressed concerns about the bill as it worked its way through the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee.
A letter dated May 20 from the chamber, the Ohio Business Roundtable, Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce and Columbus Partnership, to key Republicans in the legislature acknowledged the desire for more local input, but said the state should not erect barriers to renewable energy investment and the economic opportunity it represents.
Steve Stivers, president and CEO of the Ohio Chamber and a former U.S. congressman, said changes to the bill have made it more palatable, but that two primary issues remain. One is concern that the law could be applied retroactively to wind and solar projects already in development. The other is that there could conceivably be 88 different siting standards, one for each county, instead of having a single standard set by the state.
The bill, among other things, would allow county commissioners to prohibit the construction of wind and solar farms for whatever reason, said Jason Rafeld, executive director of the Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition of Ohio.
But there’s also a concern that projects substantially in development would have to start the process all over again, subject to the new law, he said.
Another element of the legislation would give county commissioners the ability to designate an “energy development district,” thereby preventing wind and solar projects elsewhere in the county, and potentially have residents vote to either approve or reject such designations.
All those changes are unacceptable, Rafeld said. “There needs to be a point at which companies can rely on the process.”
Sen. Rob McColley, a Republican from Napoleon and a primary sponsor of the bill, said the legislation is necessary to protect the property rights of those residents who never expected to have towering wind turbines or fields of solar panels as their neighbors, and to face declining home values as a result.
McColley, whose district includes the state’s largest collection of wind farms, primarily in Paulding and Van Wert counties, said developers have taken advantage of the lack of local control to transform large swaths of rural land.
Another reason for the bill is to allow local officials to determine if there are better uses for the land, such as an industrial park or to build houses.
The wind industry is largely stagnant in the state as setback requirements passed by the legislature in 2014 have made it difficult to install enough turbines to make a wind farm economical. But solar projects have taken off as the price of energy has dropped and large corporations continue their demand for green energy.
One of those projects, Birch Solar, straddles Auglaize and Allen counties near Lima and would take in nearly 1,500 acres. The farm would sell its electricity to Amazon and provide $2.7 million annually in payments in lieu of taxes that would be split between the two counties, two townships and two school districts, said Shanelle Montana, director of development for project developer, British-owned Lightsource BP.
The way it stands now, local authorities can intervene when developers apply for permits to construct wind or solar farms, but the ultimate decision on whether they can be built or not rests with the Ohio Power Siting Board.
Rafeld said he has no problem with one aspect of bill that would require the five-member Siting Board to expand to seven members for each project by including the chairman of the township trustees and the president of the board of county commissioners where the project is to be located.
If the project overlaps jurisdictions, a majority vote of the township boards or county commissioners would determine the ad hoc members.
That’s one element of the legislation that Dolan also said he can support. What is not acceptable is the precarious position the bill puts the industry in, he said, and the fact that it is being singled out over other land uses and energy creators, including oil, gas and nuclear power.
Rafeld said there has been a call for “interested parties” to get together and try and hash out differences before the legislation is taken up in the House, but it’s not clear if a suitable compromise can be reached.
Stivers and Dolan said McColley has been flexible in negotiations, which they appreciate, but that more progress needs to be made.
Dolan said locating energy plants, whether they involve nuclear power, fracking or renewable energy, are difficult decisions for communities to deal with, but that the Ohio Power Siting Board and its array of experts should be driving the process.
“I mean, we really put these developers through the wringer, which is good,” he said.
It’s also good that the legislature is looking to give localities more say in the process, he said, “but let’s not turn over everything to the locals, because the risk is nothing happens.”
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