Counties given veto over wind, solar projects

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Jul. 12—COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday signed into law a controversial bill singling out large-scale wind and solar projects from other forms of energy in giving local county commissioners veto power over the siting of turbines and panels.

Senate Bill 52 will take effect in mid-October and will affect projects that don't already have applications that are deemed complete before the Ohio Power Siting Board. It requires developers of proposed solar or wind project of 50 or more megawatts of power to hold a county meeting to spell out the details at least 90 days before filing an application with the OPSB.

The county commissioners would then have 90 days to deny the project, limit its scope, or do nothing, which would amount to tacit approval of the plans.

Commissioners could also act proactively by creating zones where wind and solar projects would be off limits. Such an exclusion zone could make up the entire county. The location of the zones could be subjected to a countywide voter referendum.

The bill was sponsored by Sens. Bill Reineke (R., Tiffin) and Rob McColley (R., Napoleon), whose northern Ohio districts have been the sites of ongoing fights over such projects.

Supporters of the bill, typically residents affected by neighbors' decisions to lease their farmland for wind turbines and solar panels, have argued that it brings local input into a process they claim has been weighed too heavily in favor of developers because townships don't have zoning authority.

Chris Aicholz, of the Seneca Anti-Wind Union, wasn't happy to see some projects grandfathered in because of how far along they were in the OPSB pipeline.

"That was a hard pill for us to swallow...," he said. "With the sausage making happening in Columbus, we had to give up quite a few things to get it passed. But now we know that any project that comes forward will have to go through this new process. It's not perfect, but it's a heck of a lot better with substantive local input. That's what we wanted from the beginning."

Mr. Aicholz said he believes the Seneca County commissioners would consider creating exclusionary zones where OPSB could not site projects.

With OPSB's recent denial of the Republic Wind application for up to 47 turbines in Sandusky and Seneca counties, there is currently no project pending that directly affects Seneca County, he said.

Opponents, including green energy advocates, counter that it throws more roadblocks into the path of renewable power that are not faced by fossil fuels. A handful of legislative Republicans joined Democrats in opposition.

Some House Democrats had urged Mr. DeWine to veto the bill, arguing, among other things, that it cuts off a potential revenue source for farmers, tramples on individual property rights, will cost the state jobs, and will lead to higher prices for electricity.

"By erecting barriers to and injecting uncertainty in solar and wind development, it will significantly curtail supply of the most affordably priced generation available and therefore drive-up costs for everyone," their letter read. "Embrace capitalism. Let the market work."

The OPSB currently consists of five members, but it would be temporarily expanded by two voting members for each specific project, adding one representative each for counties and townships affected locally.

First Published July 12, 2021, 3:31pm