A pair of proposed solar farms already under consideration by the Ohio Power Siting Board, along with any wind or solar farms already in the power network’s new service queue, would be grandfathered in and exempt from new legislation that would allow county officials to exclude solar and wind farms. (Photo submitted)
This week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation that will allow local authorities to limit wind and solar farms in Ohio, though it will likely not impact a pair of projects already proposed for the area.
The legislation, known as Senate Bill 52, allows county commissioners to create what it calls an “exclusionary zone” where certain solar and wind electricity generation facilities would be prohibited. The legislation also adds two, non-voting ad hoc members for each project, a county commissioner and a township trustee from the service area, to the Ohio Power Siting Board, which is currently comprised of seven voting members and four permanent advisory members.
The legislation, however, also allows projects that are already in the power network’s new service queue, have received their system impact study from power networks and have paid the application fee by the effective date of the bill to be grandfathered in.
“If any of these projects are in that process already, they would be exempt from the exclusionary zone,” said Matt Schilling with OPSB.
He said projects would likely still need to have the additional ad hoc board members.
Schilling said both the Acciona project, a 325-megawatt solar farm on nearly 3,400 acres of contracted land in York and Washington townships, and the Invenergy project, a 275-megawatt solar-powered electric generation facility on about 5,100 acres south of Route 47, between Yearsly and Storms roads and north of Route 347, are already through the process.
Schilling said that since that process is usually complete before a project approaches OPSB, there might be other local projects that have completed that process, “but not come through the Power Siting Board yet so we wouldn’t know about them yet.”
Schmenk said the commissioners “have not had any discussions about the current version of the bill or about an exclusionary zone.”
A previous version of the legislation would have allowed community members to referendum a project after it had been approved. The commissioners actually passed a resolution to support that bill by a 2-1 vote with Schmenk voting against it. She said she likes the current bill a lot better than first one.
Robinson, who supported the bill from the start, said he also likes this version.
“I think I like this a little better,” Robinson said. “We just felt it was important for us to have some say and this gives the county, the commissioners some say in these.”
In a joint statement with bill co-sponsors, Sen. Bill Reineke, who represents Union County, said he was “happy” the legislation received both Senate and House approval.
He called the bill “extremely important to those who live it every day.”
“This whole process started as a crusade for our constituents, their quality of life, and their property rights,” Reineke wrote in the statement.
He said the legislation will be “one of the best planning tools that we have implemented in the state.”
“Instead of stifling wind and solar development in Ohio, SB 52 will promote partnership and collaboration between project developers and the local community, ensuring that these projects are sited in areas that will support and cherish them,” Reineke wrote.
When the legislation was initially proposed, officials with Acciona said they were opposed, noting that it would be difficult to plan where new renewable energy sources would be welcomed.
Luisa Gomez, with Acciona, said the company had no comment after passage of the revised legislation.
Schmenk said there could be several trains of thought about where to site future solar and wind projects. She said areas that already have a wind or solar farm could be added so they do not reach a saturation point. On the other side, she said is the idea that it is best to keep these facilities isolated in one area that already has them.
“These are the factors we are going to have to weigh,” Schmenk said.
She said imposing an exclusionary zone is not a given.
“It is not something, in my view, that we have to do,” Schmenk said.
The commissioner noted that if they hear from residents and township officials, “that would be the time, in my mind, to have these discussions.”
Robinson agreed that residents and trustees should have a say, but said he is “leaning toward excluding the entire county.”
“At some point, we need to preserve the farmland,” Robinson said, adding that farmland is, “one of the assets of the county.”
He stressed there are many ways to produce electricity but farms are the only way to produce food, so there needs to be mechanisms to keep farm land from being developed, regardless of the property owner’s wishes.
“We only have so much land and they are not making any more,” Robinson said,
Schmenk said she understands the argument and is “very torn between the rights of the property owners and the quality of life of the neighbors.”
The neighbors are also at the forefront of Robinson’s opposition to the farms.
He said water and drainage concerns do not understand property boundaries so drainage tiles under the solar farms could impact other neighbors and farms in the area. He said he would support the “simple fix — any that you hit, you fix.”
Robinson continues to meet with county attorneys about the drainage in the area and has a meeting scheduled for next week to continue those discussions. He is also talking with school board members, who have reached out to him.
“Their position is that they haven’t taken one,” Robinson said. “They just want to do what’s best for the schools.”
Robinson said he wants the school district, which stands to make millions from the solar farms, to be part of any negotiations.
Both Robinson and Schmenk agree there is a lot to consider and recognize the decisions will have lasting impacts.
“I think our count has had a good healthy economy because we have welcomed new technology and new industries,” Schmenk said. “We want to keep that but it is certainly a balancing act.”
Robinson agreed, saying, “I don’t know that there is a right or wrong answer, it is just something we are dealing with.”