Wind power supporters argue referendum could kill industry

Ohio bill could undo siting of wind farms.

By Jim Provance / The Blade
Tue, 03 Dec 2019 22:39:08 GMT

COLUMBUS — Business and environmental groups told state lawmakers Tuesday that subjecting proposed wind farms to votes of the people would likely kill the industry in Ohio.

“House Bill 401 is an alarming proposal that would take away landowners’ rights by subjecting wind energy development to a local vote that could result in the cancellation of a project after the permitting,” said Susan Munroe, economic development director for Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy and former president of the Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It pits neighbor against neighbor,” she told the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It’s an attack on landowner property rights. No other development, much less energy resource development, has to endure this type of legislation at the local level.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Reineke (R., Tiffin), is also opposed by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

The measure would allow voters living in townships to petition to place a referendum on the ballot to undo wind farm site approvals by the Ohio Power Siting Board. The effort is largely driven by opponents of several large wind farms in varying stages of development, with a total of 189 turbines, on farmland in Seneca, Sandusky, Erie, and Huron counties.

Paulding County has four wind farms totaling 182 turbines, a fifth under construction with 31 turbines, and a sixth in development, generating income that Commissioner Roy Klopfenstein said could not be duplicated by other development. A turbine will soon be built on his own property.

“It is our opinion that the referendum process in this case is just wrong,” he said. “We as commissioners receive far more calls on livestock operations than wind farms. Are we as a community going to permit other industries to be subject to a ‘do I like my neighbor?’ vote?”

Some committee members questioned why Paulding should be concerned given the support wind farms have received in that rural, sparsely populated county. Testimony on Tuesday was limited to those opposing the measure.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Nino Vitale (R., Urbana), noted that, as an energy source, wind farms take up thousands of more acres than, for instance, Lake County’s Perry nuclear power plant in Lake County.

“That is a big impact difference when you’re talking about 120,000 acres versus a thousand acres,” he said. “Maybe that is where some of the tension occurs in terms of why is this coming up.”

Rep. Jon Cross (R., Kenton), who has a wind farm in his home county of Hardin, asked Mr. Klopfenstein whether some of the impact on the wind industry might be alleviated if the referendum took place prior to a siting decision by the state board rather than after approval.

“If I was a developer…, I wouldn’t take the risk,” Mr. Klopfenstein said. “We oppose it because we want more development.”

In recent years, state lawmakers have changed property setback requirements that reduce the number of turbines that may be placed on a property. They have also targeted for extinction the current mandate that utilities use increasingly more renewable power and left wind out of the consumer subsidies that were recently enacted for nuclear, solar, and coal.

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