The longstanding debate over how much society is willing to sacrifice private property rights in order to erect mammoth, commercial-scale wind turbines has been energized – perhaps even electrified, if you will – by the Ohio Power Siting Board.
In a surprise move, the OPSB unanimously agreed on June 24 that it will not allow the proposed 47-turbine Republic Wind Farm to be built in Seneca County.
It’s a surprise move not because there was fierce opposition – which there was – but because the siting board actually listened to it.
Even Chris Aichholz, one of the leaders of the citizen group known as the Seneca Anti-Wind Union, was stunned, figuring a day earlier that – at best – the project would likely be approved but with multiple strings attached.
Then, lo and behold, he got what he wanted.
Not to sound overly caustic here, but government permitting authorities don’t always listen to critics of major development projects.
They can’t, from a legal standpoint.
It’s not a popularity contest. The question is whether what’s proposed meets the requirements of law.
When a business or industry wants to build something, the onus is on the critics to prove there will be unreasonable harm.
That’s kind of what got heads spinning with the proposed Lake Erie Bill of Rights.
People couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that lakes and other natural resources should have rights just like people do, and that the onus, therefore, should be flipped upside down. Those who might cause harm to the environment would have been forced to prove they can run industries that are safe and compatible with nature if LEBOR had succeeded, not the other way around. It sounds like a small distinction, but it’s a big difference when lawyers argue over who’s got the burden of proof.
So, yes, Seneca County and other parts of northwest Ohio have what’s known as karst geology in some areas, soft and porous rock unable to support some heavy structures. I saw some of it years ago in Fremont, and can tell you some – not all – karst has holes large enough to pass basketballs through.
But those are extreme cases.
And, funny, karst only got an obligatory nod by the OPSB when it made its decision in the Seneca Wind case.
Instead, the focus was on the very impressive and determined opposition.
The Seneca Anti-Wind Union was formed virtually overnight once that county became attractive to a couple of different wind farm developers.
From an organizational standpoint, it did amazing work. It quickly mobilized hundreds of supporters, and – get this – actually got them to participate by attending both government meetings and group rallies.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Is that so bad, though?
If the consensus is that a large group of residents isn’t drawn to the lure of big money from a major energy project, do they need anything else to keep it away?
Private property rights are rights we hold dear in this country. But through eminent domain and other legal tools, companies have done anything from laying pipeline to building major industries for what’s deemed the good of society.
Remember who has the burden of proof. That, undoubtedly, will be the cornerstone of the appeal Republic Wind’s prospective builder, Apex Clean Energy, of Charlottesville, Va., has vowed to file.
These are interesting times we’re in.
Drive west over to Van Wert and Paulding counties and you’ll find people who’ve had a much better experience with wind turbines, public officials and school administrators who like what the tax revenue has done to improve finances and maintain jobs there.
Many people there don’t believe they’ve had to sacrifice much. Quite the opposite.
Go north from Van Wert and Paulding counties into Michigan’s Lenawee County and you’ll find people who successfully blocked a major wind energy project there about a decade ago. They cheer on today’s fight in Seneca County.
We don’t all have to be the same, and we don’t all have to have our landscapes carved up in a developer’s vision.
But renewable energy is America’s future, whether it’s in your backyard or someone else’s.
I don’t know where this collision of NIMBY interests is heading.
But – at least for now – it’s kind of fascinating.
People can argue whether Seneca County residents should have been more receptive to what Apex Clean Energy proposed as a $92 million investment for their county. People also can relate to how an idyllic sense of home is worth defending at all cost.
I’ve had the unusual luxury of watching Ohio’s commercial wind industry grow from the ground up, starting with the first two of four wind turbines built inside the Bowling Green landfill.
They’re much shorter than the behemoths going up now in other parts of the country, and don’t stand out to us like they once did.
It’s long been said that 99 percent of all issues with wind turbines can be resolved with proper siting.
So here we are.
We try to be sensitive to the needs of birds and bats.
What about humans?
Any day now, Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to sign into law legislation the Ohio General Assembly passed June 29 to give county commissioners more control over wind and solar projects.
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