‘Can I get a witness?’ BigWind pushes Ohio legislators to support HB 190

 

Some of us are old enough to remember Marvin Gaye’s hit song “Can I Get A Witness?” released in 1963. Tuesday night the people of Logan County got over 135 citizens to bear witness to the community’s opposition to EverPower’s Scioto Ridge project. Logan County Commissioners heard almost three and a half hours of testimony and NOT ONE witness spoke in favor of the wind development. The Commissioners will make a decision by June 21st.

Yesterday, the House Public Utilities Committee heard a great deal of testimony on Sub HB 190 which replaced the originally introduced legislation. Testimony was offered from Iberdrola, Apex, Amazon, a Van Wert School Board Member, and a cast of many more who advocated for repeal of property line setbacks and expanded authority for the OPSB to shorten existing setbacks. The bill would also repeal the requirement that any amended project would be subject to property line setbacks. One witness after another pointed to the “cost prohibitive” nature of negotiating setback waivers from non-participating landowners. They claimed the property line setbacks were a de facto moratorium on wind development. One witness representing a group called TechNet said Fortune 500 companies required Ohio-generated wind in order to locate in Ohio. REALLY? This fellow was asked “Do you know this for a FACT?” The limp response was “well, no but some members of my association would like it.”

Amazon touted the reality and promise of fulfillment centers and data centers locating in Ohio and bringing fabulous jobs. Rep. Cupp, noting the great benefits Amazon would bring, wondered why Amazon had not brought any of those jobs to communities inside the proposed “wind corridor”. In fact, Cupp declared that the Wind Corridor would bring “detriments” to the communities and those adverse impacts would not be offset by the supposed benefits. Amazon responded that they could not tell a developer where to develop. Cupp pressed on, wondering why Amazon wouldn’t have a standard that developers would have to meet in order for Amazon to feel comfortable that the wind power they were generating was protective of people and balanced in terms of competing interests. Amazon once again demurred and referred such details to the developers.

After almost two hours of this AWEA-staged circus, UNU’s Julie Johnson got to have the last word. “”We call this “trespass zoning” and that is what you have before today. A bill that awards wind developers an uncompensated nuisance, noise and safety easement across private property even though that neighboring parcel was not leased to the wind developer.” Testimony of Julie, Amazon and Apex are attached. Other testimony can be accessed on the Committee’s website at http://www.ohiohouse.gov/committee/public-utilities .

One interesting discovery from the day was Rep. Buchy’s disclosure that he has known Iberdrola’s Dan Litchfield since he was a baby in Greenville, Ohio. That did not stop Buchy from trying to wrest information on what the net cost per turbine was. Litchfield said the cost was about 4.5¢ per KwHr. Buchy asked again for the “net” cost. Mumbles. He asked if the federal subsidy was 2.3¢ wouldn’t that mean the cost was 4.5 minus 2.3? Buchy noted that everyone keeps saying the costs have gone down dramatically over the past five years. If the subsidy stayed the same, weren’t they making a lot more money? No answer.

And we have to note perhaps the lowest point when Rep. Romanchuk asked Iberdrola if a non-participating landowner could do anything they want with their own property – even right up to their own property line. Yes, Iberdrola said they could do anything – build a building or plant a crop right up to their own property line. Yessiree. The proposed setback would be 1.1 x turbine height guaranteeing that when or if it fell over, it would absolutely not fall in the neighbor’s yard. Romanchuk said this was an important point and he asked Litchfield to restate it. No, that turbine would not fall into the neighbor’s yard. Guaranteed. Romanchuk incredibly made Iberdrola guarantee it a THIRD time. Yikes. He pounded it so much that there could be no mistake, the AWEA-trained legislators thought the only issue was a toppling turbine trespassing on a neighbor’s property….

Ohio could benefit from significant economic growth if it revises existing setback requirements for wind turbines, corporate leaders, business advocates and others said Wednesday…

The comments came as the panel adopted substitute legislation (HB 190*) that allows state officials – rather than locals – to adopt minimum setback requirements for wind farms that would be located in a newly-designated “Ohio Wind Corridor” that includes much of northwest Ohio.

The substitute offered by Rep. Scott Ryan (R-Newark) also deletes sections:

allowing county commissioners to revoke resolutions creating an alternative minimum setback;
permitting the Power Siting Board to increase alternative minimum setbacks for any wind turbine, and;
extending by five years the deadline to qualify for ongoing real and tangible personal property tax exemptions.
Rep. Ryan said the substitute includes latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of the area that would be considered part of the wind corridor (map & details), indicating that the territory where wind has proven to be economically viable.

Under the new version, OPSB would* be able to adopt the same alternative minimum setback included in the initial bill.

 

 

Rep. Mark Romanchuk (R-Mansfield) asked whether companies that settle in Ohio can purchase their clean energy from other states, or if they are looking for locally-generated clean power.

Mr. Mincieli said clean power is available on the market, but there is a preference among companies to have local energy sources.

John Stephenson, manager of U.S. public policy for Amazon also lent support, saying the company has a goal of getting all of its power from renewable sources…

“Amazon believes the substitute version of HB190 strikes a balance that will allow wind development in areas of Ohio where it makes the most economic and operational sense and will help bring into Ohio more high-tech operations that increasingly depend on renewable energy,” he said. “These large scale projects, thanks to economies of scale, would provide clean electricity to the grids that power our operations in Ohio and they would do so in a cost effective manner.”

Rep. Robert Cupp (R-Lima) raised concerns that there appears to be nothing in the bill to help minimize the detriments that turbines can bring. He also said there’s no evidence that Amazon will have employees in the wind corridor.

Mr. Stephenson said Amazon is “customer-obsessed”, and, thus encourages wind developers to pursue the best-case result for the company and customers…

Rep. Roegner said she understands the importance of having strong companies in the state, but raised concerns the bill could “bulldoze” local property rights…

Rep. Cupp said the witness indicated that companies don’t take into account the impact that turbines can have on neighbors, adding that that would be a good step to take if they want to be good corporate citizens.

Steve Vavrik, chief commercial officer of Apex Clean Energy, Inc., also supported the bill, saying the current setback requirements essentially prevent wind companies from making investments in the state.

Peggy Emerson of the Paulding Chamber of Commerce acknowledged there is some disagreement over turbines, but said their presence in the region has spurred business growth and minimized local government funding concerns…

 

Julia Johnson of Urbana testified in opposition, saying she was expressing anger on behalf of her community and hundreds of others.

“People ask why Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have generated so much support in the campaign for President,” she said. “It is because people are angry and this bill is the kind of legislation that fuels that anger. Ask co-sponsor Rep. Burkley, who mobilized the fury of voters in his district leading to his defeat in the primary after introducing HB190.”

“The geographic area defined as the ‘Wind Corridor’ is essentially the only area of Ohio where wind is commercially viable and it is only marginally viable at that,” she said. “This bill is nothing more than a gimmick to repeal the setbacks established in HB483.”

Ms. Johnson added that not every location is a good place for turbine construction.

“Most wind developers are not in the energy business but are private equity investors looking for a handsome return subsidized by taxpayers and ratepayers,” she said. “HB190 would now add Ohio families living in the Wind Corridor as subsidy providers where they would be forced to donate their land if setbacks are not measured from property lines.

“We call this “trespass zoning” and that is what you have before today. A bill that awards wind developers an uncompensated nuisance, noise and safety easement across private property even though that neighboring parcel was not leased to the wind developer.”

Statehouse News May 18, 2016

Tech Companies, Business Advocates Seek Revised Wind Siting Authority

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