Legislation to give townships and counties the final say in whether to allow utility-scale solar power projects in their localities continues to wind its way through the Ohio Legislature, with one measure passing out of the Senate and another still in committee in the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 52 passed the Ohio Senate Wednesday, and according to state Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro), it had not yet been referred to a committee in the Ohio House.
“I assume it will follow House Bill 118 to the Public Utilities Committee, but nothing is guaranteed,” Wilkin told The Times-Gazette. “I’m not in favor of either bill in their current form, since we have to consider the precedence they would set for anything else that could come to a township referendum that affects our agricultural land.”
HB 118 is the House version of the Senate measure, and Wilkin said his understanding is that there was still work being done on the bill and that the chairman of the committee wanted more hearings.
According to information available online from the Ohio Legislature, both SB 52 and HB 118 seek to give local townships and county commissioners the final authority as to whether or not utility-scale solar or wind farms can be built in their jurisdictions.
Substitute SB 52, as passed by the Senate, plainly states in 21-pages that its objective is “to permit a board of county commissioners to designate energy development districts and to permit a board of township trustees, or a board of county commissioners, to prevent power siting board certification of certain wind and solar facilities.”
House Bill 118, at 28 pages and still under review by the Public Utilities Committee, includes language specific to wind farms and wind turbine setbacks, and also spells out its intent “to permit a township referendum vote on certain wind farm and solar facility certificates.”
The bill would allow local townships the right to hold a referendum vote if the Ohio Power Siting Board issued a certificate of need or an amendment to an existing certificate, specifying that approval of “a large solar facility or large wind farm shall be conditioned upon the right of referendum.”
Giving local people the right to determine what happens where they live is important to David Gingerich, an outspoken member of the grassroots organization Clinton County/Highland County Citizens Concerned About Solar Farms.
“I’m glad to see Senate Bill 52 get across the line, and we’ll see what happens when it gets in the House,” he said. “It’s a complex issue, and all this comes from legislation that was created years ago and wasn’t set up for what’s going on now with these industrial solar arrays and the amount of land mass.”
On the other side of the solar debate, Jason Rafeld, executive director of the Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition of Ohio, said his organization is adamantly opposed to both measures.
“As it stands, we remain opposed to this legislation, as it would still jeopardize billions of dollars in capital investments, thousands of jobs, and millions in revenues to local schools and governments in Ohio, all while threatening landowner rights,” he said.
He held out hope that a workable solution could be found, and indicated that the USSEC will work with both the Senate and the House.
In a letter addressed to the sponsors of both bills, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Business Roundtable, Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Columbus Partnership put forth what they called two key principals important to Ohio’s business environment:
• Existing investments — Projects that have already spent significant capital into Ohio should not “have the rug pulled out from under them” with a new set of rules or new layers of approval.
• Referendums — Subjecting major infrastructure investments to zoning by popular referenda, or multiple popular referenda by township, was inappropriate, they said, and would have a chilling effect on a growth industry and harm the state’s business climate.
In other news related to the 10 solar panel farm projects in and around Highland County, Innergex Renewables announced that it will holding a second public information hearing concerning its proposed 200-megawatt solar electric generating farm to be located just south and northeast of Lynchburg.
With the pandemic fading, Janet Grothe, Innergex manager of community and government relations, said the meeting will be in-person on Monday, June 28 at 7 p.m. at the Highland County Fairgrounds Rabbit and Poultry Barn, with the activities streamed online for those wanting to participate, but were physically unable to attend.
The second information meeting came about due to the company inadvertently failing to send notification of the earlier March 9 online hearing to nearly 50 adjacent landowners or tenants of the proposed northwest Highland County facility.
Innergex said the Palamino solar farm would occupy about 2,800 acres in Penn, Union and Dodson townships.
All details concerning the June 28 meeting and the project in general can be found at www.palominosolar.com.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.