COLUMBUS – In one of their final acts before recessing for the summer, state lawmakers early Tuesday morning sent Gov. Mike DeWine a bill handing county commissioners the decision on where wind and solar farms may be sited.
The House voted 52-43, followed by the Senate at 21-12, to give final approval to Senate Bill 52 in a debate that pitted arguments of local control against accusations of roadblocks to green energy.
“As a state legislator in northwest Ohio, I represent the counties with the most wind development in the state and understand that this bill is extremely important to those who live it every day,” said Rep. Craig Riedel (R., Defiance). “My constituents and those throughout the state are asking for a voice.”
Any wind or solar project whose application has not already been deemed complete by the current five-member Ohio Power Siting Board by the new law’s effective date in early October would be subject to the new rules.
Sponsored by Sens. Bill Reineke (R., Tiffin) and Rob McColley (R., Napoleon), it would require any proposed solar or wind project generating 50 or more megawatts of power to hold a county meeting between 90 and 300 days prior to filing paperwork with the OPSB.
The county commissioners would have 90 days to deny the project, limit its footprint, or do nothing, allowing the project to move forward without objection.
The commissioners could act proactively by creating exclusion zones where wind and solar projects would be off limits, or exclude them from the county altogether. If the OPSB approves a project in an exclusion area, the move would be subject to countywide voter referendum.
The bill would also add two new members to the OPSB – one appointed by the local county commissioners and the other by locally affected townships – to vote on that project only.
“It creates a legislative double standard that unfairly singles out wind and solar energy and imposes only on them additional regulatory processes from which other forms of energy infrastructure are exempt….,” Rep. Kent Smith (D., Euclid) said. “By erecting barriers and injecting uncertainty into solar and wind development it will significantly curtail supply of the most affordably priced generation available and, therefore, drive up costs.”
Both sides cited the OPSB’s denial last week of Republic Wind’s application for up to 47 turbines with total generating capacity of up to 200 megawatts in Sandusky and Seneca counties.
“Aggressive resistance by grassroots groups that caused the denial of the application for the Republic Wind project had invested well over $100,000 in legal and expert witness fees to voice their concerns,” Rep. Dick Stein (R., Nowalk) said. “And I ask: Is that what should be necessary for your local constituents’ voices to be heard? “
Countered Rep. Jeffrey Crossman (D., Parma): “If you look at the (Republic Wind) order that the power siting board put out…, it details all the testimony that it heard…, and the process worked.”
Mr. Riedel, who sponsored a similar bill in the House, suggested that the Paulding County commissioners, where wind development has been welcomed, would likely continue to do so under this bill while neighboring Van Wert probably would not. He noted that many projects already far along in the OPSB pipeline would be exempted from the bill’s provisions.
In both chambers, a few Republicans broke ranks to join Democrats in opposition. Northwest Ohio’s delegation, however, voted along party lines.
Assuming the governor signs it, the law would take effect in early October.
“Again today, Ohio lawmakers had the opportunity to step out of the shadows of corruption and develop a real energy policy for our state,” said Rachael Belz, executive director of Ohio Citizen Action. “Instead, they have chosen to support policies like Senate Bill 52, legislation designed to erode property owner rights, abandon an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and pit neighbor against neighbor. All this to ensure that fossil fuel interests continue to reign in Ohio.”
In a statement, the Seneca Anti-Wind Union said, “Now the people of Ohio can rest easy in the knowledge that a wind or solar developer can no longer join forces with state agencies to force industrial scale projects into their county without the full knowledge and consent of the county government.
“Local residents can take their concerns and opinions directly to their county commissioners, knowing that the power to give final approval to a project lies within their own community,” it said.
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