COLUMBUS – Legislation designed to give communities more control over the development of wind and solar energy projects has been approved by the Ohio Senate.
Senate Bill 52, which was co-sponsored by Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, was passed by the Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 20-13, and now moves on to the Ohio House of Representatives, according to the Senate’s website. The legislation would then need the signature of Gov. Mike DeWine.
“The bill has gone through many revisions, trying to make it satisfactory to all of the different interested parties, so I am satisfied that we have gotten some kind of local control involved with these projects,” said Reineke, who represents Ohio’s 26th District. “We are interested in promoting development, but also interested in making sure that our local citizens know what’s happening in their own back yards.
“My objection was to bring control to the local level, and we were trying to get it to township level, and we have it at the county level.”
Honey Creek Wind Farm planned in county
Apex Clean Energy is developing the Honey Creek Wind Farm Project in northern Crawford County and southern Seneca County. The actual height, number and location of wind turbines has not been determined, but a company representative has said it’s anticipated the project will use about 75 turbines, each 600 to 650 feet tall (measured to the tip of the blade). Apex representatives could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The Honey Creek plan faces opposition from the Seneca-Crawford Anti-Wind Alliance.
Under current legislation, developers of clean energy projects apply to the Ohio Power Siting Board for operating permits.
The new legislation would give county commissioners the power to designate energy development districts — essentially, a form of zoning — explained Joe Cicchillo, Reneike’s senior legislative aide. They also would be able to designate whether the zone was open to wind, solar or both. The new law would require all new wind or solar projects to be within such a zone.
If a project is not entirely within an energy development district, the Ohio Power Siting Board would have to reject the permit application as incomplete.
“There’s no need for a specific project before a zone is created,” Cicchillo said; counties could designate an energy development district in an effort to attract such projects.
“You’ll probably also see the other situation, where the developer will approach a county and say ‘Hey, we’re looking to develop a project, would you consider making an energy zone district in this area?'” he said.
Commissioners can’t block a specific project
The legislation does not give commissioners the ability to block a specific project once the energy development district has been created, Cicchillo said, but they can resize the district or ask the developer to make changes.
The legislation also gives opponents a 30-day window after commissioners approve an energy development districts to file a referendum petition, putting the issue on the ballot in a special election, he said — adding that’s in line with other laws governing zoning. The bill does not allow a referendum on a specific project.
If the Senate Bill 52 is signed into law, it would go into effect 90 days later. It would apply to any projects in the development process that had not yet been deemed “complete and accepted” by the Ohio Power Siting Board, Cicchillo said. “Any project that had not yet reached that point would be subject to this bill,” he said.
Developers would be required to have a a public meeting at least 90 days before filing an application with the Ohio Power Siting Board. At that meeting, all details about the planned development would be shared.
For the purpose of considering such an application, the siting board would be supplemented by two ad hoc members, representing the county and the township where the facility would be built. In cases where multiple townships or counties are involved, they would select a representative.
The legislation also would give commissioners the ability to adopt a resolution barring the development of any major wind farms or solar facilities in the county.