CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 52 into law on Monday giving elected county officials the authority to block development of large-scale wind and solar farms.
The new legislation was signed with little fanfare and no statement from the governor other than an explanation of what the bill does.
No Democrats in the House or Senate voted for the bill, while 10 Republicans in the House and 10 in the Senate opposed it.
Critics say the bill unfairly targets wind and solar energy. It allows elected county officials to prohibit specific wind and solar projects from going forward after they have been reviewed, and it also allows the officials to designate areas that are off-limits to large wind and solar farms.
All utility scale power plants must be approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board, which puts the plans through an extensive review. Going forward, only wind and solar projects will subject to local control at the county level as the bill does not apply to projects that relate to other forms of energy, including fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Republican supporters of the bill gave a variety of reasons for why they believed the legislation was necessary.
Ohio Sen. President Matt Huffman of Lima said giant wind turbines “ruin the character” of an area. He and Sen. Rob McColley of Napoleon, the primary negotiator on the behalf of SB 52, said landowners should not have to be subjected to nearby fields filled with solar panels or dotted with towering wind turbines.
They also said that because wind and solar energy provide so little power in the state they are not worth the downsides that come with them.
The Ohio Farm Bureau opposed the bill on behalf of its members who stand to gain by leasing their land to developers who piece together multiple properties to create a large enough area to create either wind or solar farms.
Among the Republicans who broke ranks and opposed the bill were Sen. Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls. He said the legislation unfairly singled out wind and solar power for an additional level of government oversight that is likely to spurn investment.
Rep. Laura Lanese, a Republican from Grove City who also opposed the bill, said property owners in eastern Ohio were not given the same consideration when the fracking boom began there more than a decade ago.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce was neutral on the bill, but its president and CEO Steve Stivers, a former U.S. Representative, said changes made to the bill as originally passed by the House made it more palatable.
One of his concerns was that solar and wind projects already in the pipeline could be derailed by local officials, but after deliberations among the lawmakers it was agreed that projects that had reached a certain point in the process could continue.
“Philosophically we would prefer to have the same standards for every fuel, every type of energy,” he said.
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