Will BigWind move closer to its Ohio neighbors?

Yesterday, the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee met to hear proponent testimony on a new version of a bill that would give County Commissioners the authority to reduce statutory setbacks for a “wind farm”. The minimum setback “shall be both” 1.1 times the total height of the turbine (including to tip of blade) to the property line of the “wind farm property” and at least 1,125 feet to the exterior of the nearest habitable residential structure located on adjacent property at the time the application is filed. Before adopting a resolution, the Board of County Commissioners may “consult with the Ohio Power Siting Board.” If a resolution passed in a county is revoked after a wind developer files a notice of intent to build a “wind farm,” the developer will be able to build according to the revoked standards but future projects will be subject current OPSB setbacks of 1,125 feet from the property line. The OPSB may increase the setback for any specific turbine in order to preserve the health, safety and welfare of the neighboring property owner. 

The same old people from Van Wert and Paulding Counties were trotted out to say wind was an economic miracle for their communities, the leaseholders, the schools and so on. Due to other hearings that morning, the hearing was poorly attended. The revised proposal was offered by Alliance Republican Kristina Hagan. Highlights of the day included the question asked to Susan Munroe of the Van Wert Chamber on why County Commissioners were in a better position to make decisions on setbacks than the property owners. She replied that County Commissioners needed to defend the property rights of the leaseholders. Munroe also alleged that P&G and Owens Corning wanted to buy their wind from Ohio and were forced to buy out of state because of the setbacks. We might remind Ms. Munroe that there are at least 7 previously certified projects such as EverPower which have not been built because there is no buyer for their output.

Munroe also said modification to the setbacks would enable the Dog Creek project as well as an Apex project to go forward. She asserted that Ohio was trailing other states but when asked if we were trailing from the perspective of setbacks, she said she did not know.She claimed that only when Dog Creek and the Apex projects were built would Van Wert be able to attract a high-tech company to their area. REALLY? Our observation is that a lot of the techies like urban areas – San Francisco comes to mind. Who would want to live in Van Wert among HUNDREDS of turbines?

Three area school officials testified they also felt the property rights of leaseholders should be protected. One school official from Lincolnview said enrollment in his school had increased. He later noted that the increases came from outside the district. We wonder if ‘in district’ numbers were shrinking if people were moving away from turbines? He also expressed hope that someday their tax levies would be less. Apparently, for now, the PILOT payments have not reduced local taxes…Hmm

Perhaps one of the worst witnesses was former Hardin County Commissioner Ron Wyss who said there was a connection between the need for reduced setbacks and the terror attacks in Paris. REALLY? Wyss went on to say that he had been a member of the Ohio Wind Working Group but later corrected himself and said he was an observer that attended all meetings. He testified that the siting regulations were painstakingly developed over a period or two years and were based on a scientific analysis. He said they should not have been discarded by the legislature. Rep. Cupp asked if Wyss had copies of the OWWG documents. Wyss said it was a public forum and all documentation would be a public record. We would remind Wyss that at the time of the OWWG, turbines were 1MW and much, much smaller. We might also remind him that when the industry saw that setbacks might be longer than they wanted, the OWWG was disbanded and the facilitator’s consulting contract was terminated. The Development Department staffer to the OWWG went on to be the Department’s “expert” on siting for the OPSB until he resigned in the face of ethics charges for running around with wind lobbyists on the taxpayer’s dime. UNU has all of the documents related to the OWWG. We wonder who recruited Wyss to testify about OWWG.

Iberdrola’s Dan Litchfield testified that the last change resulted in a tripling of setbacks. He said that some people did not want to sign because they did not want to tie up land for such a long time and others had multiple owners who could not agree. He asserted County Commissioners are in the best position because they decide the PILOT. He said Illinois counties administer wind zoning while Michigan and Indiana have given the authority to Township Trustees. Because the turbines are getting bigger, the payments to landowners which were typically $7,000 to $8,000 will now be getting bigger. Vice Chairman Roegner asked Litchfield to confirm Iberdrola was a Spanish Company. She said she had done her research and wondered why Ohioans were being asked to endure shorter setbacks than the countries where their companies were located. She went on to list a variety of longer setbacks in Germany, Scotland and Wales. Litchfield said the longer European setbacks were probably from houses and not property lines. He also said they do not have current complaints. We wonder if leaseholders and Good Neighbor Agreement holders waived project effects and so have no right to complain? Rep. Rogers asked how the current setbacks were developed. Litchfield said he did not know because there was no public process. He noted also that OPSB had very strict rules on noise and shadow flicker and those were the basis for original setbacks from homes. REALLY?

Litchfield also said the wind industry — at this point — cannot afford to pay the signing bonuses that other energy companies can pay. Maybe that is the crux of the problem. Economically troubled communities and wind developers who may lose their subsidies. The communities are desperate for anything they can get while the wind companies can’t build without the PTC, local tax abatement or paying landowners. A toxic combination.

Written testimony was also submitted by John Love, Putnam County Commissioners; Tony Zartman, Paulding County Commissioner; Curt Cory, Director of Putnam County Community Improvement Corporation; David Miller, Treasurer of Leipsic Local School District; Jerry Zielke Director Paulding County Economic Development, and Peggy Emerson, Executive Director Paulding Chamber of Commerce. All testimony can be found on the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee website at http://www.ohiohouse.gov/committee/public-utilities by clicking on November 18, 2015.

Ironically, just as setbacks are being debated again, the wind industry’s leading insurance underwriter, GCube, released a report on the incidence of fire at wind facilities. The report is entitled “Towering Inferno” and urges that more should be done to mitigate and prevent fires. That is a tall order given that lightning strikes are the second highest cause of fire. Many property owners, including and especially farmers, are concerned about fires at harvest time when land is usually pretty dry. Property line setbacks of 1,125 feet as opposed to 1.1 times turbine height can offer a bit of protection against the spread of fire…

Northwestern Ohio officials are lining up behind a legislative proposal to allow more local control of where wind farms can be built, a plan that would help to get around restrictions passed last year.

“For us, it’s all about the pursuit of economic development and economic prosperity,” said Susan Munroe, president and CEO of the Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce.

She is one of 14 local elected officials and business leaders who signed a letter in support of House Bill 190, which allows for more local control. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Tim Brown, R-Bowling Green, and Tony Burkley, R-Payne, was the subject of a hearing on Wednesday.

If it passes, the measure would represent a small shift in a system that gives state agencies most of the control over wind-farm decisions.

The bill is a response to legislation passed last year by majority Republicans that increased the required distance between wind turbines and nearby property lines. That change has been criticized by the wind-power industry because it reduces the number of turbines that can be built in a project area…

 

Source: Northwestern Ohio officials back plan for local control over wind-farm sites

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