Bill to give local control over renewables projects passes Ohio Senate

Ohio
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(Farm and Dairy) – A bill that would allow for local say in the approval process for utility-scale wind and solar projects passed the Ohio Senate. 

Senate Bill 52 passed the Senate Energy and Public Utilities committee in the morning, June 2, and passed the full Senate later that day. The legislation received a vote of 20-13, with several Republicans voting against it. It’ll move on to the House next.

The bill was introduced by Republican Sens. Rob McColley, of Napoleon, and Bill Reineke, of Tiffin. It received support from many Ohio residents who are being faced with large-scale renewable energy projects in their backyards.

Ohio farmers found themselves on both sides of the issue, with some arguing for more local control and others arguing for private property rights. Several of the state’s agricultural commodity groups came out against the legislation, as did Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

What it does

The bill would require developers to bring a proposed utility-scale solar or wind project before the board of county commissioners before applying with the Ohio Power Siting Board. The developer would have to hold a public meeting 

The commissioners then have three options: do nothing, pass a resolution banning the project or pass a resolution limiting the geographic area of the project. 

If the commissioners do nothing for 90 days after the public meeting, that means the project is approved. The project would then move on to the Ohio Power Siting Board process.

County commissioners could also pass a blanket ban on solar and wind development within the county or create energy development districts to designate certain areas where renewable projects were welcome. Residents could petition for a referendum to vote on the creation of such districts.

The most recent version of the bill was developed with the help of some Ohio business groups that were initially opposed to the legislation. 

Currently, utility-scale solar and wind projects are approved entirely at the state level by the Ohio Power Siting Board. Residents are allowed to give five minutes of testimony during a public hearing, but most projects are certified by the board regardless of significant public opposition to it.

The state’s livestock groups submitted joint testimony in opposition, as did the Ohio Soybean Association and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. The ag groups acknowledged the need for a better process for local input, but felt the legislation went too far. Many in the farming community are concerned this type of local control targeting land use could become a slippery slope.

Renewables supporters said if the legislation became law, it would have a chilling effect on the state’s fledgling utility-scale solar and wind industries and result in billions of dollars in investment leaving the state.

“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,” said Jason Rafeld, executive director of the Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition of Ohio, in a statement released June 2. “Moving forward, we are hopeful that we’re headed in a positive direction and remain committed to the process and working with the Senate and the House to find a workable solution.”

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