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Local Officials Want Power To Decide Wind Farm Location Restrictions

Iberdrola Renewables, LLC

There’s a new fight brewing over green energy laws. Local officials say they should have the right to decide where wind turbines can go.

When companies started rolling into Ohio to drill for natural gas, lots of landowners signed contracts to give up what’s known as mineral rights. This way drilling companies could strike natural gas under the property and landowners would get paid.

When wind energy companies started laying out plans in northwest Ohio, landowners were hoping for the same kind of deal. But the state’s new laws on where wind turbines can go have greatly limited development projects.

These are known as setback laws. Susan Munroe, a Van Wert county commissioner, is fighting for a bill to give local officials the right to create their own setbacks.

“What may work in one community, may not work in another. It’s a practical and really, very conservative way to approach economic development to give that authority to each county instead of having like an overriding state rule," said Munroe.

That so-called overriding state rule went under the radar after being slipped into a budget update bill last year. Some wind energy officials say those new laws significantly handcuffed pending projects.

Ronald Wyss lives in Hardin County. He would like to sign with a new wind farm project but the revamped laws won’t let him put a wind turbine on his land.

“What they’re basically doing is making it impossible for my acres to be joined to the existing approved project which takes away from my ability to reap the benefits of allowing them to lease my property for wind development,” Wyss said.

Wyss says the old setback laws were created after a lot of research and input from the community. This is why Republican Representatives Tony Burkley and Tim Brown, both from northwest Ohio, introduced a bill to send this power back to the local level.

But Republican Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati says it’s important to keep these laws uniform across the state. He adds that leaving it up to local officials opens the door to potential conflicts of interest.

“Township trustees and/or county commissioners that may have a financial interest in the wind farm by reason of leasing part of their property to the wind farm developer,” said Seitz.

Seitz says it can work the other way too. Local officials who don’t want wind mills could pass tougher setbacks.

The senator is often butting heads with the wind energy industry. He led the charge to freezing Ohio’s clean energy standards last year, which paused the requirements on utilities to use a certain amount of green energy.

Munroe and Wyss, the pro-local control advocates, say there’s a double standard between what the natural gas fracking industry can do and what wind farms can do. Seitz says the setback laws were created to protect landowners who don’t want anything to do with these energy projects, he also acknowledges that the setbacks are different for each industry.

“But that is because oil and gas development occurs underground for the most part and wind farms are almost exclusively above ground, 500 foot tall structures.”

Munroe says -- to people in northwest Ohio -- wind is their shale.

“It is the chamber’s mission -- it is our mission to support development that’s going to bring economic prosperity to our area and that’s what wind farm development is,” said Munroe.

Munroe recognizes that there are people in their communities who may not like seeing or being near wind turbines but that’s a debate that could be had on the local level.

The bill to give setbacks over the local control has had two hearings in the House.

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