Ohio Wind turbine setback reform gets mixed reaction, potentially pitting wind against clean energy advocates

Source: By John Funk, The Plain Dealer • Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2018

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The wind industry this week said its member companies are ready to invest billions in Ohio if state lawmakers can rewrite the state’s four-year-old zoning rules that shut down new wind farm development.

“The Ohio Senate has shown great leadership with their continued commitment to reforming Ohio’s wind energy setback policies,” said Andrew Gohn, policy director for the American Wind Energy Association.

He was speaking of the decision by the Senate Republican leadership to rewrite legislation approved by the House a year ago but stuck ever since in a Senate committee.

That bill, HB 114, would have made the state’s renewable energy standards voluntary and erased them completely by 2026. It also would have watered down mandates requiring utilities to help customers use less power. It said nothing about wind turbine setbacks.

“These reforms will expand energy options for the state, create new jobs for its citizens and restore private property rights,” Gohn said of the Senate’s re-write this week of the House bill to include revisions to the draconian turbine setback rules that previous GOP Senate leaders tucked into an unrelated budget bill in 2014.

“The American Wind Energy Association’s members stand ready to build and invest billions in Ohio if setbacks are fixed, and we’re optimistic the Senate will get it done,” Gohn said.

But other clean energy groups are not so sure they can support the Senate’s redraft because, while it does not eliminate the state’s renewable and efficiency mandates, it does water them down significantly.

Neil Waggoner, spokesman for the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club, said the bill as written poses problems.

“We are pleased to see them making changes to fix the wind setbacks, but we are concerned about weakening the efficiency programs that are saving energy and money. And we are concerned about further rollbacks of [renewable] standards,” he said in an interview.

Ted Ford, president and CEO of Ohio Advanced Energy Economy, also did not try to hide his concerns about the bill.

“We applaud the proposed changes in the wind setbacks but have deep concerns about the impact of the [business and industry] opt-out on energy efficiency programs,” he wrote in response to an emailed question.

“Reducing the energy efficiency requirements, as the bill does, while making participation optional for a large percentage of energy users, undercuts the benefits for all consumers.

“And cutting Ohio’s already modest renewable energy standard when we have barely scratched the surface of what is doable in Ohio also makes no sense,” Ford added. “We need a forward-looking energy policy that protects Ohio consumers and moves us forward. We look forward to continuing to work with the Senate leadership to develop a bill that does that.”

That legislation already exists, and has lain dormant in the same Senate committee that has locked up HB 114.

Introduced last December by Chagrin Falls Republican Sen. Matt Dolan, SB 238 contains the same setback language used by Senate leadership in their rewrite of the year-old House measure.

Dolan said he agreed that the wind setback language in his bill could go into the rewrite of the House legislation.

“I am hoping the Senate president will also see clear to have my wind bill move separately,” said Dolan, “so if the House is inclined to move on wind, it can do so.

“This is what ‘All of the above’ looks like,” he said in a reference to a popular phrase to describe support for all power generation technologies, including nuclear, fossil fuel and renewables. “We can’t just mouth the words. We have to put the legislation in place so it can happen.”