Maybe the next time the Union County Board of Commissioners decides to convene a public meeting, it might want to send along requests for RSVPs.
By law, should the commissioners decide to hold a public hearing or meeting they are required to issue notice at least 30 days in advance. So at least 30 days ago, the commissioners invited the public to a meeting in their commission chambers at 233 W. 6th St. Tuesday at 7 p.m. to discuss Senate Bill 52 and the impact it will have on proposed solar or wind farms in Union County.
But no one was more surprised than the commissioners themselves when about 150 people showed up for the meeting in the commissioners’ offices. At 7:05 p.m. the chambers themselves were packed tip-to-toe with residents and the corridors of the county offices were quickly filling up as people continued to file in two or three at a time.
It quickly became clear that because of the scores of people who showed up for the meeting they could not possibly fit in the chambers, so the whole outfit was politely invited and moved an orderly fashion to Veterans Memorial Auditorium down the hall which could easily handle the overflow crowd.
Union County Assistant Prosecutor Thayne Gray in his opening comments explained, in some detail, the major points of SB 52, which now gives counties and townships more input prior to the approvals of solar/wind farms and a means of recourse against those companies who wish to construct solar/wind farms in the various counties around the state. Until the passing of SB 52, when and where such farms could be built was the singular decision of the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), giving the counties and townships involved little say in the process.
But since the passing of SB 52, county commissioners will be allowed to establish restricted areas barring such farms inside their counties subject to referendum. Two voting members will be added to the Ohio Power Citing Board (there were seven voting members prior to SB 52) and solar and wind farm developers to submit decommissioning plans when they make their applications to the OPSB.
After Mr. Gray’s opening remarks, all three commissioners were sitting on the stage, and all made short remarks before Commissioner Steve Robinson stepped off the stage with the mic and an amp and invited those any of those in attendance to address the meeting, asking them to restrict their remarks from three to five minutes, which was honored by most of the speakers. Of the dozen of those who spoke, it ran about 50/50 between those who opposed the establishment of restricted areas, and those who wish to see the restrictions put in place.
Several speakers were greeted with short bursts of applause when they spoke, but those in attendance were respectful and listened patiently to each speaker.
All three commissioners now know, if they didn’t know before, that solar power is a polarizing influence in Union County and is an issue that they will have to take up sooner rather than later. Energy companies are continuing to file dozens of proposed solar and wind farms throughout the state, with Union County being targeted again for more solar farms. (Editors note: While Union County seems to be attractive to the energy companies developing solar farms, no proposals for wind farms have been made in Union County. This is not the case in flatlands of northwest Ohio where wind farms are the preferred method for generating energy, but the general rules for both are the same under SB 52.)
Decision time is drawing near for the Commission, which, if Tuesday’s meeting was any indication, has a relatively evenly divided constituency on this subject. The Cadence and Union solar farms were grandfathered in to SB 52 as their projects were approved prior to the passage of the legislation, so both of those projects are expected to come to realization.
But now that SB 52 has become law, county commissions must come up with an appropriate answer to that oldest of political dilemmas: Weighing the rights of a property owner against the power of the government, in this case the county government, to regulate those rights.
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