During a Thursday public hearing about the future of wind energy in Crawford County, commissioners heard about property rights and property values. They heard about energy independence and quality of life. And they heard from a lot of people concerned by how the issue has divided the community.
Hattie Hartschuh, a wind farm opponent, addressed leaseholders during her comments.
“Some of you are family members, a lot of you are friends, and I truly hope that after this, one way or the other, that we can all get along the way that we did before,” she said. “I think that’s extremely important.”
More than 400 people packed the youth building at the Crawford County Fairgrounds for the hearing, during which more than 40 had the opportunity to speak. Even after the formal hearing ended, commissioner Doug Weisenauer sat with a small group, listening to a few more residents who wanted to be sure their comments were heard.
Apex Clean Energy has been leasing farmland in the northern half of Crawford County for a planned 300-megawatt, 60-turbine wind farm. Wind farm developers would make an annual Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT fee, of $9,000 per megawatt, nameplate capacity, to the county each year, generating $2.7 million.
A group called Crawford Anti-Wind has led opposition to the planned wind farm, urging commissioners to take action to block the development through petition drives, public meetings and yard signs. Members’ distinctive yellow shirts dominated the audience Thursday.
Vote tentatively scheduled for May 5
The hearing was the first step in a process toward restricting wind farm development set out by Senate Bill 52, which became Ohio law in July. The bill significantly changed Ohio’s laws governing siting requirements for industrial solar and wind projects, giving county commissioners the ability to prevent Ohio Power Siting Board certification of certain wind and solar facilities.
The law concerns “economically significant wind farms, a large wind farm or a large solar farm,” explained Matt Crall, Crawford County prosecutor, who moderated the hearing. It wouldn’t apply if a resident wanted to put a wind turbine on his own property.
After the hearing, commissioners can adopt a resolution designating unincorporated land in the county as a restricted area, prohibiting construction of wind farms, Crall said. They are tentatively scheduled to consider such a resolution on May 5, he said.
A petition seeking to have a referendum on the issue placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot could be filed within 30 days. Otherwise, the commissioners’ resolution would go into effect at the end of that period.
“It would require 8% of the total votes cast for candidates for governor in the most recent governor election, that would be 2018 election,” Crall said. According to the Crawford County Board of Elections, he said, 14,767 ballots were cast in that race, so 1,182 registered voters would have to sign the referendum petition.
The commissioners have public hearings all the time, but usually just a handful of people attend, Crall said.
“But this is good, because this is your county,” he said of the large gathering. “We’re all here as your elected representatives and it’s good for us to have this input.”
Almost 100 people asked to speak
People who wished to speak at the meeting were asked to fill out a form in advance; almost 100 people did so, Crall said. People were asked to limit their comments to three minutes.
When speakers went over that limit, Crall would stand and walk toward the podium, and people in the crowd would start shouting “Time! Time!”
“If you have have written comments, commissioners will still be accepting these until they vote, so you can feel free to email them, drop them off at their office, if you don’t get a chance to say something today that you want to say to your commissioners,” Crall said.
“There’s not going to be a question-and-answer period, because that could end up adding a lot of time. The purpose of a hearing like this isn’t for question and answering, it’s a chance for anyone in the public to get up and say their piece. I know that may not be what you are used to, but that’s what we’re going to do here today.”
Apex representative addresses crowd
To start the meeting, commissioners allotted 10 minutes to Tyler Fehrman, field manager for Apex Clean Energy.
He first spoke directly to commissioners.
“I want to remind you that these anti-wind organizations all across the United States, not just in Crawford County, tend to share the same old, discredited, information. … I’m not going to spend my time today going point by point through the classic arguments you have heard time and time again. You’ve heard from them and you’ve heard from us for the last several years. You know the talking points. You get stories and what-ifs from the opposition, you get facts, data, science and evidence from Apex.”
Fehrman said that across the nation, communities like Crawford County are benefitting from wind farms. He cited Paulding County as an example.
“If you go to Paulding County and you ask the folks that live amongst wind turbines what their experience has been, it is largely positive,” he said. “Families are financially stable. Schools are growing and well-supplied and the community is stronger.”
Crawford County would see similar benefits, he said. “Not only those things, but siting a wind farm in a county like Crawford makes it a more attractive place for much-needed industry and job opportunities.”
There’s one over-arcing theme, he said: property rights.
Farmers and other landowners are asking for financial stability, Fehrman said, “the ability to provide their family with security for decades. And who are we, who are any of you, who is any government entity, to tell them no?”
“Private property is just that: private,” he said. “Each and every landowner, whether for or against wind farms, has the right to do what they want with their land. If we ban wind turbines, we set a dangerous precedent. … Once we give even just a little bit of our rights away, it’s impossibly hard to get them back.
“Our landowners, commissioners, do not need rallies. We don’t need matching T-shirts. We don’t need public sign-and-drive events. We don’t need to yell or cause division. All they want is to live on their land, do as they please and provide for their families. I believe they should be allowed to. I also believe that it is the duty of the elected officials of Crawford County to protect that right.”
Then it was the public’s turn to speak.
At first, Crall tried to alternate between wind farm proponents and opponents – but ran out of supporters about halfway through the session, which stretched to almost three hours.
‘It should be put to a vote’
Many people in the crowd stood and applauded after Paul Steven Hall argued that putting the issue to a vote would be the only way to reunite the community.
“This is the largest and most significant issue to have been brought to this county that I can remember … It’s too important, too divisive and too much responsibility for three elected officials to bear on their own. It should be put to a vote,” Jones said. “Apex cares about one thing, and one thing only: Getting these built at all cost.”
People are familiar with the phrase “divide and conquer,” and that’s what Apex is doing, he said.
“Families have been split, friendships have been damaged, neighbors have turned on each other. Some have even resorted to referring to the thousands of residents who oppose the turbines as bullies in the media. Apex has driven a wedge into our community. That wedge is driven deeper and deeper the longer this drags on. This needs to be done, once and for all, so our county can begin to heal the wounds created by Apex. … The only way this can happen is to ensure that everyone has their voice heard via the ballot box.”
Bucyrus resident Lisa Miller, who spoke first, addressed wind farm opponents.
“You are a well-organized bunch. I see people here who I have known for years and know many of them to be good people. We just see the world differently, and I hope fences can be mended at some point.”
She said she and her husband believe the community should embrace renewable energy as a way to combat climate change. “This project says that Crawford County wants to do its part to save the planet,” Miller said.
“The commissioners and those running for one of those seats have pretty much stated their opposition to this project, which makes this hearing, although it has to happen, kind of a farce. So we would say back to you, don’t come asking for new taxes or tax increases. You have the chance to bring more revenue to our county, help local landowners and do your part for the environment.”
She was interrupted by shouts of “Time! Time!” as her comments reached the three-minute mark.
Questions raised about terms of leases
“Industrial turbines as we know them today are inefficient and they come with a laundry list of negative effects,” Hattie Hartschuh said during her remarks. “We are looking at a 30-year commitment to an industry design that has only been around since the 1980s.” More efficient designs have been developed and are likely to become available on an industrial scale in coming years.
She asked if leaseholders had asked an attorney to review the contract, or if they’d sought competitive bids.
“Companies like Apex choose counties like our for a reason. We are under-educated and struggle with poverty. Those socio-economic factors make us a perfect target.”
Chris Nye also spoke about his concerns with the terms of the lease agreements, arguing that in the contracts, landowners are signing away more property rights than they may realize. “You’ve got to pay lawyers to go through it if you really want to learn about it,” Nye said. His lawyers advised him not to sign, he said.
“We’ll find other ways to make money; this isn’t the right deal,” he said.
Laurie Elliott spoke about concerns for her young grandson, who has autism and is nonverbal. Normally, when they’re at home, she can control environmental factors that might be upsetting him, she said. But she wouldn’t be able to control shadow flicker or the sound of a wind turbine.
“I bought my place out on Beechgrove Road because I wanted peace and quiet. But we should not have to pull our curtains, we should not have to close our windows to the sound, or worry about his sleep or anyone else’s sleep.”
‘A historical day’
Here is a sampling of comments from other speakers:
• Bob Sostakowski: “Big wind and residential rural properties do not mix.”
• Paula Iler: “I’m really excited today. This is the first step on a historical day, on a positive note for our county, thanks to Senate Bill 52. And thank you commissioners, for taking this step. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
• Larry Horning: “The folks that talked about they have the right to lease their own property, they do. But at what cost? I remember in grade school, somebody told me, ‘In America, you have the rights to do anything.’ I said, ‘Well, anything?’ As long as you don’t infringe on your neighbors’ rights. … I’ve traveled coast to coast, you all have seen these wind farms too, and they are a giant eyesore and I don’t want them in my backyard. … Yes, we need energy. Wind farms generate energy. I don’t know if they pay for themselves, but they generate energy. This is a huge country. They can stick it somewhere where there isn’t people living every quarter-mile.”
• Dan Bute: “These modern-day Don Quixotes would keep this county from receiving the over $4.5 million estimated in economic benefit this project would bring to our county.”
• Coy Michaels: “One county commissioner can been quoted from the Telegraph-Forum saying, ‘Go visit a wind farm.’ I did, and I don’t like them. Now what? I believe the statement is wrong, you should say, ‘Go live on a wind farm,’ because people there live in them 24/7, 365. They’re not just spectators passing through.”
• Mike Grady: “When someone tells me that they’re against telling someone what they can do with their property, that happens to us every day; there’s all kinds of rules and regulations that we have to go by.”
• Vera Ash: “The turbines would change our county from prime agriculture to a heavy, industrialized zone. Forever.”
• Pauline Hitchcock, Paulding County resident: “Your roads are going to be a total disaster for approximately four years.”
• Jenna Stacklin: “No amount of money is worth giving up our quality of life.”
• Ted Bruner: “This is the Garden of Eden; there are no wind turbines in the Garden of Eden.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding