A Northeast Ohio Republican is pushing for a return to shorter setbacks for wind farms in Ohio, arguing the rules created in 2014 have strangled investment in the industry.
The issue of how far turbines should be built from nearby businesses and residential properties has long been a contentious issue in Champaign County, where developers have sought to build a wind farm in two phases.
The project’s developers have argued residents are adequately protected. But opponents have said turbines should be farther from homes and businesses for safety and to prevent potential nuisances like noise.
Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, provided testimony in January on a bill he’s sponsored that would ease the restrictions for potential wind development. The rules instituted in 2014 nearly tripled the property line setbacks, he said, and have made it nearly impossible for wind farm developers to operate in the state.
Senate Bill 328, if approved, would determine setback requirements based on the height of the turbine and the length of the turbine’s blades.
Ohio is losing out on millions in investment going to other states, Dolan said, pointing out that no new wind farm applications have been filed with the state since the setback increase in 2014.
“The 2014 wind turbine setback is among the most restrictive in the nation and has created uncertainty for businesses looking to invest in Ohio,” Dolan said. “Less restrictive minimum setbacks would benefit many Ohio businesses that manufacture wind turbine components and restore the multibillion dollar economic development projects statewide.”
In Champaign County the developers of that project recently filed an amendment to their permit slashing the number of proposed turbines from about 100 to 50. The Champaign County project, which was split into two phases, was involved in a legal fight that lasted more than a decade and ended up in the Ohio Supreme Court.
The setback requirements are a matter of contention in the Champaign County project. A group of residents opposed to the project argued to the Ohio Power Siting Board that it appears to use setbacks of 541 feet from adjacent property lines. That would comply with regulations in place at the time the Champaign County wind project was initially approved.
But the group argues that if the project is amended, the tougher setback restrictions should be applied. John Stock, a Columbus attorney representing the local residents declined comment.
“Accordingly, any amendment to applicant’s certificates made after Sept. 15, 2014, are subject to the new setback requirements of the act and each new turbine now is required to be setback at least 1,125 feet from the property line of the nearest adjacent (non-participating) property,” the residents argued in a motion to intervene in the case.
Dolan’s bill is working its way through the Senate.
“The current law that was put in at midnight with no transparency, no public hearings, essentially stifled the wind industry in Ohio,” Dolan said.
Along with a debate over setback requirements, state lawmakers are also expected to battle over Ohio’s clean energy requirements.
The controversial mandates were approved by Ohio lawmakers in 2008. They call for a quarter of the state’s energy to come from alternative sources by 2025, with half of that coming from renewable sources such as wind and solar. The law also required utilities to encourage energy efficiency, for example by offering customers rebates to purchase efficient appliances.
State lawmakers froze the law for two years while a panel studied its effectiveness. GOP lawmakers have voted to extend the freeze and make the standards optional. But Ohio Gov. John Kasich has vetoed those attempts.
Dolan said the setback issue could be tackled as part of a broader debate later this year over the state’s renewable energy policies.
“There are other energy issues that are also in play, so there’s some thought about trying to resolve all the energy issues into one bill, which would include the wind setbacks, returning those to a distance that allows investment to occur,” Dolan said.
Andrew Gohn is the eastern regional policy director for the American Wind Energy Association, a wind energy advocacy group. The current setbacks have functioned essentially as a ban on wind farms, he said.
“As a result, Ohio has fallen far behind its neighbors for wind farm investment,” Gohn said. “Rolling back this regulatory overreach will unleash Ohio business opportunities for wind power and the Fortune 500 companies who want to buy it.”