COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An Ohio state senator is expected to introduce an amendment to the proposed state budget that would loosen the setback standards for wind turbines and potentially trigger billions of dollars of dormant wind farm development in the state.
Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite, a Republican from Findlay, said his amendment would recalibrate how far a wind turbine must be from an unoccupied parcel of land, making it economical again for developers to build wind farms to generate electricity.
Hite said he expects the support of other Republican senators, which bodes well for passage. He also expects Gov. John Kasich to be on board.
The wind industry says Ohio is more restrictive compared to other Midwest states when it comes to designing wind farms.
Ohio's turbine-setback standards are among the most restrictive in the country, according to a report that claims they are preventing up to $4.2 billion in economic activity from approved or proposed wind farms that have stalled in development.
That $4.2 billion includes such things as land-lease payments to property owners, payments in lieu of taxes to localities, and other economic activity across multiple counties.
The setbacks haven't always been so restrictive. The Republican-controlled legislature altered the standards in 2014 at the urging of then Ohio Senate President Keith Faber.
The new Senate president, Larry Obhof of Medina, said earlier this week that he expects a few different proposals modifying the wind-turbine setback, but he didn't give details.
"I don't know what the odds are, but there are a number of members who are interested in it," Obhof told reporters Wednesday. "I expect we will probably see several amendments, maybe as many as a half dozen about that, but you know we'll see what the amendments look like and we'll decide when it's actually in front of us."
Ohio Sen. Randy Garnder, a Republican fom Borlwing Green, said he supports making the setbacks less restrictive.
"I would do what we can to restore the ability to utilize wind energy in Ohio," he said.
Hite said he thinks Republicans in the legislature will go along with a less-restrictive setback standard because it doesn't mean imposing a mandate from the government. The setback issue "is just an economic development argument and a property rights argument," he said.
There are a few significant wind farms in the state, with the largest in Van Wert and Paulding counties, but developers have their sites on wind farms in several others counties in the northwest quadrant of the state where the wind is most favorable for generating electricity.
The Blue Creek Wind Farm has its detractors, but it also pays several million dollars a year to landowners, schools and local governments.
But after the turbine setback was made more restrictive, everything changed.
"The industry has not filed a single application for a new wind farm since this law went into effect," Terrence O'Donnell, an attorney representing wind interests in Ohio, said of the change made in 2014. "We essentially have a moratorium on wind projects in Ohio right now."
Before the setback change, a wind turbine had to be positioned a distance of at least 1.1 times the height of the turbine - as measured from the ground to the tip of an upright blade - from the boundary line of unoccupied property. That's about 550 feet for a typical turbine.
The regulation was rewritten to require the setback from the unoccupied property to be the same as the setback from a house, a distance of 1,125 feet from the tip of a horizontally extended blade, or about 1,300 feet in total.
Faber sought the change after he was approached by constituents concerned about the prospect of neighboring wind farms, and he was able to convince Kasich to support it.
Hite said his bill would calculate the setback distance differently. It would take the distance from the ground to the turbine hub, add the length of a single blade, and then increase that distance by another 20 percent.
He said industry representatives he has spoken with support the amendment.