September 15, 2022

Senate Bill 52 options discussed during commissioners’ session

By Todd Helberg | The Crescent-News | Sep 7, 2022 |

NAPOLEON – The area’s state senator explained local options here Tuesday morning under Ohio Senate Bill 52 (SB 52), legislation he sponsored that provides area officials with more say in where wind and solar farms locate.

The venue was Henry County commissioners’ regular session, attended by some township officials seeking information on what to do about ongoing efforts to establish such farms in Henry County.

None exist in Henry County, but property lease agreements with property owners are being sought by renewable energy companies, according to one local official.

Authority to grant wind and solar farm permits rests with the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) in Columbus. But under SB 52, a county commissioner and township trustee – both from within the footprint of a proposed solar or wind farm – are added to the seven appointed members.

Local officials also have the ability to say no to a solar or wind farm under SB 52’s provisions, set up exclusion zones or limit the project’s footprint.

This is quite a change from the past, noted McColley, when the OPSB’s decisions were “100% exempt from real local control.” That led to OPSB rulings that didn’t take into account overwhelming opposition, he indicated.

“I thought that was a slap in the face to people who have to live around these projects,” McColley told commissioners.

Township officials who attended Tuesday’s meeting peppered McColley with a number of questions.

One asked about the financial windfall that solar and wind farm projects would provide, and whether this might be like their experience with natural gas pipelines when the purported tax benefits from the company were smaller than expected.

McColley said the difference is that wind and solar farms make contributions to local political subdivisions, such as schools – a process known as payments in lieu of taxes – based on the amount of power they are generating.

The pipeline companies pay property taxes, and in at least one case a controversy has emerged about what is owed to counties. Rover Pipeline, for example, has appealed to the state, seeking a smaller property tax obligation than what counties have assessed the company.

Another question concerned the possibility that solar companies might try to divide up projects into smaller ones that would exempt them from SB 52. As the law stands, solar farms of 49 megaWatts or smaller do not require OPSB approval.

But McColley said these would all be treated as one project, (so such a tactic would not be possible).

As for passing resolutions placing restrictions on where wind and solar farms can go, McColley – an attorney – advised township trustees that “if you’re going to do it, you should do it now.”

Earlier, he also had encouraged trustees to seek remedies that might find some middle ground.

“I would urge you to use your leverage to produce a win-win,” he said, noting too the financial benefits provided to local governments by renewable energy companies, particularly schools.

Such companies generally undertake solar and wind projects through government tax credits.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners:

• approved a resolution authorizing a final payment of $60,939.08 to Gerken Paving, Inc., Napoleon, for this year’s road resurfacing projects.

• passed a resolution approving 2022 county budget adjustments.

• participated in a County Commissioners Association of Ohio water quality task force meeting online.

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