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Superintendent Says Handcuffed Wind Energy Industry Hurts District Revenue

Ben Postlethwait

Communities have reaped the benefits of Ohio’s booming energy industry. But some local officials believe their schools are missing out on potential funds.

A portion of northwest Ohio’s landscape has drastically changed over the past few years with the addition of more than 300 wind turbines spinning in the breeze.

To some, these turbines mean more than just energy production. They’ve also created another source of revenue. Jeff Snyder is the superintendent of the Lincolnview Local School district in Van Wert County. He says his district has greatly benefited from the new wind energy development.

“For us, it’s been a -- to the tune of over $400,000 per year for 20 years.”

That’s money from one project, the Blue Creek Wind Farm a more than $600 million venture by IberdrolaRenewables which put 115 turbines in Van Wert.

Iberdrola has other big projects, but they had to be tabled because of new restrictions passed by state lawmakers. These restrictions, known as setbacks, dictate how far a wind turbine must be from a landowner’s property if that landowner did not agree to be part of the wind farm.

One potential wind farm planned to have 75 turbines, but the new setbacks would slash that to just 2. Another project drew up 50 turbines but now it could only get 7.

Snyder says that’s money going out the window for his district which was poised to make another $600,000 a year off the pending projects.

“And all of the sudden somebody down in Columbus makes a decision that that’s not good enough for us. Without even talking to myself and our constituents and our county. That’s frustrating to hear and observe and go through," said Snyder.

Synder says the money his district has received from the wind farm has increased access to computers and helped the district add more academic programs. Snyder says wind has become a valuable asset for the region and that his schools have added renewable energy as a component to students’ education.

He’s among local government officials from northwest Ohio who are calling on lawmakers to pass a new bill that would give county commissioners the power to draw their own setbacks.

But backers of the current law say these restrictions are meant to protect those who don’t want anything to do with energy projects. Republican Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati is a big proponent of strict setbacks. He says local officials who benefit from wind farm revenue – such as Snyder – should put themselves in the shoes of those landowners.

“It’s very easy for Mr. School Superintendent to say that, but he might feel differently if it was his property that was right next door to a wind farm with numerous four and 500 foot structures whirring in the breeze on a daily basis," said Seitz.

Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati)

Seitz says Ohio’s setbacks should be uniform statewide and the current rules already align pretty closely to the norm in the U.S. In fact, he’d like to see the gap between non-participating landowners and wind projects widen even more.

“We need to remember, Ohio has 11 and a half million people. It is quite different than Kansas and Texas and Minnesota where there is not the same density of population and so respect for private property rights is more important when there are more people around than when there are less people around,” Seitz said.

The bill to hand the control to create setbacks to county commissioners is currently being heard by a House committee.

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