Marion Co. Commissioners approve solar, wind restrictions in 4 more townships

The list of townships in Marion County that are restricting the development of solar and wind energy projects is growing.

During their Aug. 18 meeting, the Marion County Commissioners voted to approve resolutions submitted by trustees from Big Island, Claridon, Richland, and Salt Rock townships that will limit such development. All four resolutions followed the same format with the same language.

The commissioners voted to approve a similar resolution put forth by the Pleasant Township Trustees at the conclusion of a public hearing held June 7.

Marion County Assistant Prosecutor William J. Owen said the issue of whether or not renewable energy development is allowed in certain areas of a county "is a very complicated procedure."

"There are power companies out there that claim that they are already grandfathered in, that they can do what they want to do and that (the resolutions restricting development) doesn't affect them," Owen stated. "We're trying to sort those people out. But when you're dealing with the state and its administrative rules and the hearings (in Columbus), it becomes very complicated."

Owen added that residents have a 30-day window to appeal the county commissioners' approval of the four resolutions restricting solar and wind project development. If there is no appeal made, the resolutions go into effect.

"But that doesn't mean the battle's over because you may have power companies petitioning and claiming that they're grandfathered in and they can go ahead and proceed," Owen said. "And so (the Marion County Commissioners) office will be involved in all of that as we are now in, for example, Pleasant Township."

Township trustees and other interested parties expressed their views on the subject during the meeting.

Taylor Christian, a field representative for the Ohio Land and Liberty Coalition, told the commissioners that his organization believes property owners should have the right to develop their land without government interference and that the commissioners should consider each project on its own merits instead of issuing blanket decrees.

"We believe that land owners and farmers who sign their land up to be leased for solar farms ... should be able to do that without undo government restriction," Christian stated. "It's important for land owners and farmers to be able to use their land to make money for themselves and their families the way they see fit, whether it's corn, soy, solar. We see it all as a great way for them to be able to help keep that land.

"I also think it's important that you use the project-by-project, case-by-case (approach) instead of exclusion zones. There absolutely will be some developers that don't fit as well in your communities, but I think there are a lot of developers that will do their best to work with you, work with the neighbors, and do everything they can to make the most amount of people happy."

Christian went on to note that "the money that comes in (from solar and wind projects) has transformed schools in a very positive way," noting Paulding County as one example. According to a March 2021 report from the Paulding County Commissioners and Paulding County Economic Development, Inc., since 2019, the three school districts in that county have received approximately $6,366,426 in combined revenue from solar and wind projects.

Wayne Trace Local Schools had received the lion's share of revenue at $5,595,592. Antwerp Local Schools received approximately $769,989. Pauling Local Schools only received about $845.

Locally, Ridgedale Local Schools stands to benefit from $356,000 in annual revenue generated by the Marion County Solar Project LLC. That project will be located in northern Marion Township.

Big Island Township Trustee Philip C. Schaber, who supported the resolution restricting development, expressed concerns about renewable energy projects taking farmland out of use.

"Renewable is okay, it's great, but there's also setbacks," Schaber said. "It might be all right to have maybe one windmill, one solar place and everything, but when it comes to putting a full solar farm in, like the one out here on (Marion-Williamsport Road in Marion Township), and everything, it's taking good farmland. I guess that's our main thing. ... We do not want solar farms or windmills in Big Island Township."

Claridon Township Trustee Tim Mooney, who stated that he is in favor of the resolution restricting solar and wind development, asked if there was any flexibility to rescind or amend the resolution to allow for renewable energy development by companies within the areas of the township where industry already exists.

"We do have quite a bit of construction going on, so the concern that I had was being able to change or rescind this particular resolution," he said. "I just wanted to know if there was a circumstance that came up in our industrial area, if we could make (amendments) to that or change it or drop it. I think we all know once it reaches a certain amount of kilowatt production it falls under (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio) and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is going to control a lot of that and we won't have much say in that anyway."

Marion County Assistant Prosecutor William J. Owen said state statute allows an individual customer to "establish their own electrical solar or turbine power generator because it doesn't hook to the grid."

"So under those circumstances if a company out there wanted to have their own solar, they could do that," Owen explained. "But if it's one solar facility for multiple customers that goes to the grid, it would not be permitted. Unless it exceeds 50 megawatts, then, as you pointed out, it would go to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (for approval)."

Waldo Township Trustee Mike Augenstein said he's "afraid that there's this undercurrent of negativity toward renewable energy" that's not based "on accurate scientific sources."

"(Waldo Township) is behind (the other townships on drafting resolutions restricting solar and wind energy development) and I'm glad we are because I don't want this undercurrent to take over the entire county, of negativity toward it," Augenstein said. "I'm definitely against the resolutions due to a lack of research on the subject, real scientific data constituents' ideas. I personally received a phone call from a constituent that thinks the solar panels are made by slaves in China and that they leak and pollute the ground water and I just don't know that there's any research backing this up. Luckily, we have time in Waldo to really mull this over."

Section 2 of the resolutions approved by the commissioners does allow them to lift restrictions in certain cases. It reads: "The Board of County Commissioners hereby expresses its intention to study impacts of wind and solar development to determine whether certain areas of the County are suitable for such development, and if so to adopt standards for such development prior to lifting any restrictions for those suitable areas."

Owen noted that while the resolution does grant that authority to the commissioners, "there is very little precedent for that right now. In fact, I don't know of any matter that's reached that point."

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This article originally appeared on Marion Star: Marion Co. Commissioners okay more township solar, wind restrictions