Will the Ohio legislature allow BigWind to thrive?

As the Trump Administration moves to cut federal programs and shift regulatory oversight to the states, the environmental left is moving to ensure state policies will favor renewables and especially wind. A spokesperson for the Ohio Environmental Council asserted in a recent article that the OEC “will also “double down” on holding Ohio policymakers accountable, whether it’s in the Legislature or at the local level. The OEC has already opened two field offices in Lorraine and Toledo and will open a third in Cincinnati.

With that in mind the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that “Wind developers still have their sights on Ohio and are hoping to persuade state lawmakers to return to the old setbacks. But will that happen? Or might there be a compromise that legislators and the industry can agree on, especially if those legislators see the wind industry attracting good jobs to the state as a result?” The paper goes on to remind readers that new applications for wind projects in Ohio must meet the property line setbacks and “That does not bode well for Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., which has four wind projects in development in Ohio, but has yet to apply for permits with the Ohio Power Siting Board. If built as desired, the projects would generate $171 million in lease payments to landowners, $207 million in payments-in-lieu of taxes to local schools and $104 million in payments-in-lieu of taxes to counties and townships, according to Apex.” “Wind advocates hope the interest Amazon has shown in using renewable energy to power its new data centers in Ohio will convince enough Republican legislators to return to the old setbacks, sending a message that Ohio welcomes renewable energy and the companies that desire it.”

Noteworthy, as well, is this excerpt: “Are state lawmakers willing to revisit the setback issue? It appears so, although it will involve tough negotiations. Last year, House Bill 190 would have allowed counties in Ohio to override the state setback requirement, but the legislation died in the House. Then-Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, who chaired the Senate Public Utilities Committee, said one problem he had with H.B. 190 was that counties responsible for deciding the setbacks also would have a financial interest in taxes generated by the project.” “The term-limited Seitz is now in the House of Representatives and chairing the Public Utilities Committee there. He said he would be willing to consider legislation that gives townships, but not counties, override ability, but that only township trustees who don’t have property included in the wind farm would have a vote.

But lobbyist Dayne Baird Payne said the wind industry wants a return of the old statewide setbacks, and if not, scientific evidence as to why the change was made. She said giving the authority to townships would be costly because wind developers would have to go before multiple townships as well as the Ohio Power Siting Board.” (We imagine the developers would think local township control would also be costly since they would undoubtedly sue any township that refused to allow their obliteration by industrial wind.)

Elsewhere, we were astonished to read that recently retired Vorys Attorney Howard Petricoff, who was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission but resigned when the Ohio Senate refused to confirm his nomination, was HIRED by the PUCO as their “chief analyst.” He will oversee four departments that do technical analysis for rate cases and other issues. This seems to be a real slap in the face of the legislature by the Kasich Administration and may foretell more battles to come.

We often argue the use of property line setbacks is essential as an extra measure of protection as industrial wind turbines continue to grow ever larger. Generally speaking, leaseholders and those who have signed setback waivers, have relinquished the right to object to the repowering of turbines with longer blades or other newer technology. Now comes NextEra to announce “We expect yet another major step-change in wind turbine technology through a combination of even taller towers and wider rotor diameters, which would further increase net capacity factors” NextEra sees the next generation models being in use in 2020 and providing such additional capacity as to eliminate the need for federal subsidies like the Production Tax Credit. Given that G.E. currently uses equipment that has 600’ towers and blades that sweep an area larger than a couple of football fields, anyone who thinks a 1,250 to 2,000 foot setback from a house is okay is nuts! Indiana is looking at state legislation that would impose 1.5 miles from sensitive receptors like schools and hospitals along with 2,220 feet from an occupied home but the legislation would also require an affirmative vote from the community before a wind factory could be built.

The two bills considered in the last Congress to prohibit wind facilities near military airfields have now been re-introduced in the new Congress. Senator Cornyn of Texas issued a statement saying “This bill will both enhance public safety in communities adjacent to military bases and help our military better train to defend our homeland.” “After discussing the safety concerns regarding nearby wind turbines with military leaders and pilots across Texas, I’m hopeful this bill can cut down on unintended radar interference in the future and ensure our pilots can continue to train in a safe and effective manner.” Existing wind projects would be grandfathered.

Getting back to the Trump Administration, there remains considerable uncertainty as to how policies will impact wind development. We hear that the President wants to pursue significant infrastructure projects that will create jobs. Some argue that those infrastructure projects should include greatly expanded transmission lines to move wind from the Midwest to population centers in the East, West and South. Last year, the Midwest (as defined by the U.S. Census and which includes Ohio) accounted for more than a third of the country’s wind power output. We urge all readers to read the articles about transmission.

Mike Fehr, MidAmerican’s vice-president for resource development, said that while several factors such as landowner and community support and wildlife considerations enter into decisions about where to locate wind turbines, transmission “is probably the first thing we look at. It’s the most limiting.” “Wind farms don’t have to be located directly on new transmission lines to benefit from their additional capacity, Fehr explained. As long as the new line is close enough to relieve transmission congestion in the general vicinity of a new generating facility, he said, it provides avenues for additional electricity to move freely out of the region.

Transmission capacity can even trump the quality of the wind resource.” Early in our introduction to wind, we recall being told developers follow transmission lines the way rats follow sewer lines. Guess so.

One company pursuing improved transmission is American Electric Power. “The Columbus electric utility is working on a plan for Statehouse legislators that will be “surgical in terms of its approach,” CEO Nick Adams said Thursday while discussing year-end financial results. He described it as a “clean slate.” The thrust of AEP’s plan is a focus on future development, including building new power generation with natural gas and renewables, and not focusing on getting subsidies for its remaining four coal-fired power plants. “AEP will not invest in new generation in Ohio unless we have clear (cost) recovery,” Akins said. The company also wants to make sure “we’re not lining up before the Ohio Supreme Court all the time,” he said. “That’s really what we’re after.” Manufacturing sites are some of the utility’s biggest customers in terms of power usage, and infrastructure like new transmission is a key part of AEP’s future plans.”

Important, too, is the movement of utilities like AEP to build their own wind. We have reported previously that AEP is the proposed purchaser for output from the Buckeye Wind project in Champaign County.  In addition to being a matter of concern for target communities, “This is a potentially worrying trend for IPPs such as Invenergy, Pattern and Enel Green Power, and one that is expected to gain steam in 2017. … Where once it made sense for rate-regulated utilities to meet their renewables mandates by signing a few one-off PPAs — or “filling the gap”, as one utility executive puts it — many increasingly see value in owning big wind fleets and passing the costs on to their ratepayers.” Can it get any worse?

We feel pretty certain that there will be lots of action in the world of transmission and proof is that AWEA’s lobbyist Rob Gramlich is leaving AWEA to launch a new consulting firm dedicated to building a more robust electricity grid. What’s that we said about rats?

All of this news is overwhelming. We continue to support those on the front line of the battle. For everyone else, we remind you that the best defense is an educated community that says “NO” to wind leases. You can’t have a wind project in your community unless people sign leases and no truly educated person would do that. Second best for now is to withhold tax abatement and “PILOT” payments. One day these tax incentives and subsidies will no longer be needed. How will we defend our homes and families then? By saying no to transmission and no to wind leases….

Ohio has enough wind to generate electricity on a large scale. What it lacks is a rulebook that allows developers to do just that.

In 2014, the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation that more than doubled the distance wind turbines have to be from unoccupied neighboring property, assuming the owner of that property doesn’t grant a waiver….

Source: Will the Ohio legislature allow the wind industry to thrive?

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