By Joel Penhorwood, Ohio Ag Net
Renewed drive has been given to renewable energy groups looking to further establish themselves in northern Ohio. A new report from the Wind Energy Foundation found the state’s four utility-scale wind projects in Paulding, Van Wert, and Hardin counties will have delivered in excess of $54 million through payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), and land lease payments, by the end of 2018.
The report comes at a time when a new, 66-turbine wind farm in Seneca and Sandusky counties has been proposed by Apex Clean Energy of Virginia. The group reportedly told the Ohio Power Siting Board they will build what is known as The Republic Wind Farm only if restrictive property setback rules put in place in 2014 are repealed. The setback rules define the distance a wind turbine can be placed from neighboring properties. As it is currently written, the rules go to the nearest property line.
A bill introduced in the Ohio Statehouse in December by State Senator Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), brought forth legislation that would change the minimum setback requirements for turbines on wind farms to pre-2014 levels. This Senate Bill 238 changes the distance requirement to “at least 1,225 in horizontal distance from the tip of the turbine’s nearest blade at ninety degrees to the exterior of the nearest, habitable, residential structure, if any, located on adjacent property at the time of the certification application.”
The bill defines the minimum setback requirements for turbines on wind farms with at least five megawatts of generating capacity.
“This bill continues the effort to return the wind setback requirements to a distance that encourages the development of wind energy in the state,” Senator Dolan said. “By choosing to promote alternative energy sources as part of our state’s energy portfolio, businesses will choose to locate in Ohio. These wind farms are economically significant to Ohio.”
Commerce leaders in several Ohio counties said the wind industry is passing over Ohio as a result of the current rules. Many are heading to states like Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Those states have developed 17 projects since 2014. The Ohio Power Siting Board has received no new project applications that meet the setback requirements put in place in 2014.
State Representative Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) joined Senator Dolan to urge support for the bill and wind energy as a whole during a recent press conference at the Ohio Statehouse. The two were joined by wind energy leaders as well as school and community officials from those currently hosting wind energy and those hopeful for it in the future.
“This wind farm and others like it hold the promise of tremendous economic benefit for Ohio’s rural communities,” Reineke said. “I am hopeful the General Assembly will act soon to at least give our local community the opportunity to move forward with this project, because current law is acting as a significant statewide barrier.”
According to the Wind Energy Foundation report, The Republic Wind Farm wind farm is projected to deliver $120 million in local economic impact over its life. The number includes projected annual PILOT payments of $1.1 million to $1.8 million, which would be distributed among the five municipalities (Adams, Pleasant, Reed, Scipio, and Thompson Townships) and four school districts (Bellevue City School District, Clyde-Green Springs Exempted Village School District, Old Fort Local School district, Seneca East Local School District) in Seneca County. Also getting money would include one municipality (York Township) and one school district in Sandusky County (Bellevue City School District).
Seneca County Commissioner Holly Stacy was at the press conference to voice her support of wind energy in the county, and the economic opportunity they hope to see from it.
“We work every day to bring more opportunities to help be supportive of the economic development that can help bring jobs to our communities and support the growth of the existing businesses that we have,” Stacy said. “I also can say I represent the 2%, the 2% being the farming community. Those of us engaged in the farming community know that we pay attention to 100% of the consumers. The rules, the regulations, the things that come down the pipe from various levels, we have to follow. We have to take the extra steps to make sure that we follow that consumer demand.
“This is an opportunity for those in rural areas to say, ‘We can help economic development. We can still have our farm.’ One thing for sure is that if it’s helping the schools, maybe the next time the schools need help, it won’t be an increase in our property taxes. In order for our community to have the opportunities that others have had, what you’re hearing today is what we must do. We must have some change in the Ohio regulations for the wind industry. Otherwise that economic development can’t happen in the other sections of the state. Our county has had the local control, and we made that evident by previous commissioners putting the PILOT in place in Seneca County.”
Her thoughts on school funding were echoed by several local education leaders in attendance to the press conference, including Martin Miller, superintendent of Antwerp Local Schools, a rural school district in Paulding County. They have just started to receive PILOT funding. The district would like to build an innovation and aqua-horticulture center with hopes of retaining students after graduation.
“We see two payments every year. The first half payment was $95,000 that we received last month. Sometime in the fall we will receive the other half of that, a total of $190,000 combined,” Miller said. “What does a school district do with $190,000 that they didn’t have a year ago? We knew this was coming and fortunately over the last few years, we’ve done a very good job of budgeting for that. Because our budget is in good shape, we can use that wind turbine money to do advanced things.”
The topic of wind energy has become a divisive one in recent years throughout Ohio. Groups such as the Seneca Anti-Wind Union are vehemently against the installation of wind turbines in their community. The groups argue that job creation will be seen minimally at the local level. They also voice safety, noise, health, property rights, and aesthetic concerns. It has been suggested that a referendum be placed on the ballot locally about the Seneca County wind project.
Stacy noted it’s important to keep in mind many local landowners are behind the project.
“We are very fortunate in Seneca County to have overwhelming support from our rural areas for wind development. That has been proved through the thousands of acres that are under lease agreements, or are interested in lease agreements for wind development,” she said.
There is an amount of local control built into the system through the approval of PILOT payments by county commissioners. Logan County commissioners, for example, decided in 2016 to not allow a wind energy company payment in lieu of taxes. This does not prevent the construction of wind turbines, but many companies say they will not go forth with the project without PILOT.
“I want to highlight that Ohio counties currently can accept or reject the existence of wind farms. The locals will have the ability to decide what is in the best interest of their community,” Senator Dolan said. “The benefits and burdens, just like any industry, have been and will continue to be debated at the local level.”