The Ohio General Assembly passed substitute Senate Bill 52 early Tuesday morning giving counties the ability to restrict development of large-scale wind and solar farms.
The bill, which will now go to the governor for his signature, will allow county commissioners to designate exclusion areas where large wind and solar farms cannot be constructed.
It also will allow counties to prevent newly proposed projects from being built after a public meeting on the project is held and relevant information is provided to the commissioners for their consideration.
A major sticking point with legislators was how the bill would treat projects that are already in the pipeline. The new law will allow county commissioners to thwart individual wind projects that have not reached a certain threshold in the Ohio Power Siting Board’s application process. Projects have 30 days after the new law takes effect to meet that threshold.
Also, if there are “material” changes to project, such as an increase in the number of turbines or their height, after the project has met the application threshold, the project must go before the county commissioners for approval.
Solar projects would be treated differently. They would be grandfathered under the current law if they have met application requirements with the PJM Interconnection, the regional authority that controls the flow of wholesale electricity across several states.
There are far more solar projects under development in Ohio than there are wind projects. The wind industry in the state has been largely stagnant since the General Assembly changed setback requirements in 2014 that make it difficult to design an economically viable wind farm.
Solar projects have been on the rise, as the cost to produce solar power has dropped considerably and large corporations such as Amazon and Facebook have sought to buy green energy.
The new law ensures that local authorities will have more control over the approval of wind and solar projects and become involved in the process sooner. The approval process has been the sole domain of the statewide Power Siting Board, which recently turned down a wind project in Seneca County.
Proponents of the bill argue that local control is necessary to protect the rights of property owners who never anticipated having wind or solar farms as neighbors.
“This started out as a crusade or a fight for my constituents,” said Bill Reineke, a Republican from Tiffin and primary sponsor of the bill, shortly before the Senate’s concurrence vote.
Other lawmakers believe the rights of the farmers who want the option to place solar panels or wind turbines are now being trampled.
Rep. Kristin Boggs, a Democrat from Columbus, said during the House debate that people should not be able to control a farmers’ property rights because they like to look at their corn and soybean fields.
Counties such as Cuyahoga and Summit that have a county executive-county council form of government would also have the right to control large wind and solar farms, even though the bill specifically gives that right to county commissioners, said Sen. Matt Dolan, a Republican from Chagrin Falls and member of the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee.
A prior version of the bill passed the Senate this month 20-13, and after that version was amended by the House Public Utilities Committee, it passed the House 52-43 Tuesday morning, shortly after midnight. The bill then returned to the Senate where its members concurred with the House changes 21-12.
Four of the 12 senators opposing the final version of the bill were Republicans, including Dolan.
Dolan said he doesn’t believe the state should treat wind and solar differently than other energy-creating industries and that another level of bureaucracy beyond the Power Siting Board is unnecessary.
The legislation does not pertain to the controversial wind farm known as Icebreaker proposed for Lake Erie.
The bill also:
· Requires that the Power Siting Board, when considering a wind or solar project, add two ad hoc members representing the county and township where the project is located.
· Requires those ad hoc members to make public any “ex parte” communications they have involving a project they will be voting on.
· Requires a plan for decommissioning a wind and solar farm after it has run its course.
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