Northwestern Ohio officials are lining up behind a legislative proposal to allow more local control of where wind farms can be built, a plan that would help to get around restrictions passed last year.
“For us, it’s all about the pursuit of economic development and economic prosperity,” said Susan Munroe, president and CEO of the Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce.
She is one of 14 local elected officials and business leaders who signed a letter in support of House Bill 190, which allows for more local control. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Tim Brown, R-Bowling Green, and Tony Burkley, R-Payne, was the subject of a hearing on Wednesday.
If it passes, the measure would represent a small shift in a system that gives state agencies most of the control over wind-farm decisions.
The bill is a response to legislation passed last year by majority Republicans that increased the required distance between wind turbines and nearby property lines. That change has been criticized by the wind-power industry because it reduces the number of turbines that can be built in a project area.
Local governments and schools have said the new rules are killing potential projects and shifting investment to other states.
Under H.B. 190, county commissioners could vote to use the old rules on a project-by-project basis, which would allow for more turbines.
Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, a leading critic of wind energy, says he is willing to talk about the new proposal and could support some version of it.
“Introducing some element of local decision-making is perhaps something I could work with,” said Seitz, chairman of the Senate Public Utilities Committee. “I’m trying to extend an olive branch here.”
He would like to see the bill amended to say that the local authority would be held by township or village governments closest to the projects, not county commissioners. Also, he would like to see a provision that bars local elected officials from voting on wind projects in which they stand to receive a financial benefit.
Both of those conditions sound like bad ideas to Munroe, who notes that many wind farms are located within several townships, which would lead to a complex local approval process.
“It’s just not practical,” she said.