Is BigWind as sneaky as Sylvester the Cat?

The wind industry has been hard at work and so have we. You will recall that the setbacks for wind turbines were changed a year ago in the Mid Biennium Budget Bill. The change required that setbacks be measured from the property lines of non-participating landowners instead of their homes. The old setbacks essentially forced property owners to “donate” their yards and fields as part of the safety buffer zone. This enabled the wind developers to use land without paying for its use. Senate President Faber and Governor Kasich supported the revised setbacks. The eleven wind projects that had received certificates of approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) were grandfathered in under the old setbacks unless they amended their certificate, in which case, the new setbacks would apply. The wind industry has gone around to communities and newspaper editorial boards saying that Ohio unreasonably lengthened setbacks making it impossible to develop renewable energy in Ohio. This was not true because they all had the option of negotiating a setback waiver with the landowner and compensating him for use of his land.

Currently under consideration in the Ohio House is HB 190. The wind industry-backed HB 190 would give County Commissioners the power to overrule the OPSB and change setbacks. HB 190 would also extend the life of the PILOT program. It appeared that rough sailing might be ahead for HB 190 when the House Public Utilities Committee understood what was really happening. The wind developers had framed the issue as giving “Local Control” back to communities. In reality, they were proposing to use County Commissioners to take property rights away from property owners. HB 190 has not had a hearing for opponents but it could be shoved into the Budget Bill. This would be terrible as HB 190 does not provide for a referendum if County Commissioners decide to take the property of people in the community. We understand Rep. Brown of Bowling Green in Wood County is pushing this idea. It is an awful bill, reflects the worst of a predatory industry and harms rural communities and their families.

Just in case HB 190 might be in trouble, the wind lobbyists went to work on the state Budget Bill. An amendment was proposed to extend the life of the PILOT program for five years. We are uncertain if this extension is in the version of the bill now being considered by the Conference Committee. One other wind-related amendment was inserted as a favor to at least one developer. This amendment would grant an exemption to the requirement that an approved project be subject to the new setbacks if the approved project was amended. There is a list of criteria the wind developer must meet in order to obtain the exemption:

1. The sole purpose of the amendment is to change the turbine model that was previously approved by OPSB.

2. The number of turbines is not increased.

3. The exemption must be sought within 90 days of the budget bill’s enactment.

4. The new turbines to be installed are technologically more advanced or efficient than the originally approved models.

5. The new models are not more than 8% taller than the approved models.

6. The developer is obligated by contract to supply energy to a mercantile customer that uses at least 7 million kilo-watt hours a year.

7. The turbines will be placed in the same locations as the originally approved turbines.

We do not know which approved Ohio wind project this special provision is designed to help. We think it is wrong to increase the height of a turbine and not re-examine the shadow flicker, noise and safety issues related to the new models. We are guessing that the projects most likely to benefit (if more than one apply) are Timber Creek and Hog Creek. This is a GUESS.

Late last night/early this morning, an additional amendment was accepted by the Conference Committee. We are working to understand what the substance of the newest amendment is. It is possible that the provisions of HB 190 are in this amendment. We recall that just a year ago, Governor Kasich was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch when asked about the revised setbacks: “Private property rights are important. People choose to live somewhere. You just don’t go in there and disrupt their life.”…