Republican lawmakers in the Ohio House and Senate are pushing for a bill that would allow township voters to reject wind farm projects through a referendum.
Wind companies have proposed putting up more than 200 new wind turbines in northern Ohio. Those proposals are filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board.
But State Rep. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) and State Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), among other Republican legislators, want to give local voters the ability to hold a referendum on those turbines before they officially go up.
McColley says this puts wind projects on the same level as other economic development projects that face zoning issues.
"This is something that is a land use local control issue and should have been all along and any other township zoning decision that would be made regarding the use of that land would be subject to referendum by these township residents," says McColley.
Among the pending wind farm projects is a 50-turbine wind farm proposed to be built in Seneca County. Community organizers from Seneca County joined the legislators as they announced the bill at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Wednesday.
That includes Shanna Price, who explains that land owners who sign leasing agreements with wind companies get paid royalties while other residents who live within eyesight of the farm do not.
"I would be subject to a lot of those negatives. There's no other utility or thing that can happen in your community that transforms it into an industrial zone and you have no say in that process," says Price.
Wind energy supporters argue that these projects create a lot of revenue for the community, which then gets pumped into local government and school district funds.
The Ohio Conservative Energy Forum, a group that advocates for energy issues from a conservative perspective, says this would "impede property rights" and create hurdles for energy developers.
"Ohio has a rich history of being a leader in innovation. This proposal would send a strong signal that Ohio views the emerging renewable energy industry with hostility and would slam the door to the economic opportunities this industry provides," said Tyler Duvelius, OHCEF executive director in a written statement. "The government has no place trampling property rights in favor of one form of energy over another."
Environmental advocates say the state should be finding ways to encourage more renewable energy development.
"We know that a majority of Ohioans support renewable energy projects as a way to fight against the negative impacts of climate change on our communities. However, our state’s failure to embrace new ideas and technologies has created major challenges and nearly stalled renewable energy progress,” Miranda Leppla, advocate for the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, said in a written statement.
The proposed bill would create a referendum process which residents could use once a project is approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board.
Opponents of an approved project would then have 90 days to collect signatures, the equivalent of 8% of the voter turnout from the most recent gubernatorial election in that township. If opponents collect enough signatures, the referendum issue would go on the ballot in the next election, primary or general.
Supporters of the bill argue, because of the money that goes into developing a wind farm proposal, that companies would be more likely to be accountable to the community and to build good will among residents.