This week the Delaware County Commission got the ball rolling on local provisions for regulating commercial solar and wind facilities. That authority stems from Senate Bill 52, which took effect Monday. The measure gives county commissions the opportunity to insert themselves in the state regulatory process by barring development of solar and wind projects on unincorporated county land.
Commissioners insist their effort is not meant to stifle renewable energy development, but all three members seem inclined to establish a restricted area in all, or part, of Delaware County. At Monday’s commission meeting, the panel directed their staff attorney to develop draft language. The commission will also hold public hearings to gather input from residents.
Commission President Gary Merrell argued for setting up the restrictions on the front end, and then letting landowners or developers pitch potential projects to the commission.
“If we had a blanket across our county for the areas that we have authority over, it doesn’t preclude anyone from doing it,” Merrell explained. “We still have the opportunity to protect landowners’ rights, if they want to go down that road, but [we] do create an environment where there is that conversation.”
Commissioner Barb Lewis was more forceful.
“I think we want to be proactive, set up a restrictive area,” Lewis said, “The flexibility is there for us, and for the property owner.”
But environmentalists worry added friction in the approval process will stifle renewable energy projects.
“Ohioans overwhelmingly support the transition to a clean, renewable energy future,” Ohio Environmental Council Vice President for Environmental Policy Miranda Leppla says. “But as we’re seeing in Delaware County, the passage of Senate Bill 52 singles out solar and wind as the only sources of energy generation subject to local processes and approvals.”
She argues a county-by-county regulatory approach will “hobble” development, and that there is already significant opportunity for public comment during review by the Ohio Siting Board.
In June, that board rejected a wind farm in Seneca and Sandusky counties after significant public pushback. S.B. 52’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Reineke is from Tiffin, Seneca’s county seat. Commissioners there are working on their own proposal to restrict solar and wind projects.
Delaware Commissioner Jeff Benton also noted the debate in their county might be superfluous. With real estate developers in the area pushing land values higher, landowners seem less inclined to sign the long-term leases solar or wind farms would demand.
Still, he signaled his approval for drafting resolution, with a caveat.
“I’m ok with that so long as there is a process for landowners to appeal, if you will, and carve out a non-restrictive area within a restrictive area that would be in place,” Benton said.
In an interview, Commission President Merrell framed their approach as something like quality control. He argued they’re trying to establish equitable procedures for reviewing projects rather considering them on ad hoc basis. And he was adamant they’re not aiming to add hurdles to an already lengthy state review process.
“Frankly, this is much more efficient than the alternative in my opinion,” Merrell said. “So, I don’t think red tape is right.”
Under the provisions of S.B. 52, the county will have to hold public hearings before taking any action to place restrictions on renewable development. Merrell says they do not have a timeline for when those hearings will take place.
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