Against the wind: Wind turbine opponents bring petition signed by 1,100; one commissioner switches stance

Opponents of wind turbine projects in Seneca County presented a petition with more than 1,100 signatures to the board of commissioners Tuesday morning and gained a notable new supporter in the process.

Chris Aichholz, a Bloomville resident and Seneca-Anti Wind Union member, presented the petition which he said formally asks the commissioners to rescind the alternative energy zone the county approved in 2011.

He said the AEZ acts as a “welcome mat” for wind projects by making them more economically feasible.

“It puts forth a prescribed PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes (program),” he said, adding that the payments amount to about $9,000 per megawatt generated by the projects.

Aichholz referenced an anti-wind union event held last week that had nearly 600 people in attendance.

“I stand here with much support behind me, asking for your help,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Kerschner, who along with the other two commissioners has been supportive of the AEZ and the turbine projects, changed his position and said he believes the AEZ should be rescinded.

“The whole back and forth on the wind projects has been a bit of a cluster,” he said. “What this has caused is brother against brother, friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor.”

Kerschner said he knows the more than 1,100 people who signed the petition are against the project and he believes there likely are many more.

“I feel that somebody needs to represent your voice,” he said to about 60 people in attendance, of which the vast majority were there to ask commissioners to rescind the AEZ. “That somebody is going to be me from this point forward.”

Kerschner said he has been impressed by the amount of people who have participated in events with the anti-wind group.

He recommended the AEZ be rescinded and for wind project opponents to continue advocating at the state level. The commissioners can only rescind the AEZ, they have no power to stop specific wind turbine projects. That power resides with the Ohio Power Siting Board and with state elected officials. Kerschner said there is no mechanism for a referendum or vote on the projects, but he said there is some discussion at the state level that this could become a reality. The idea is not included in any pending bills in the House or Senate.

“It will still take a lot of work (to stop the projects),” Kerschner said. “We have to conduct conversations, not confrontations. Continue your campaign with accurate and insightful information.”

Kerschner moved that the AEZ be rescinded, but the motion died on the floor because Commissioner Holly Stacy declined to give a second and Commissioner Shayne Thomas was not at the meeting. Thomas said Monday he had a previous engagement before he knew the AEZ petition would be presented.

Stacy said she did not support repealing the AEZ Tuesday.

“The previous board put the AEZ in place,” she said. “That indicated that we are fair and open to energy development of all kinds.”

Thomas said if he was at the meeting, he also would have declined to give Kerschner’s motion a second.

“I haven’t heard anything new that would lead me to rescind the AEZ,” he said.

Thomas said he believes the issue is about property rights.

“Somebody has to convince me that the costs outweigh the benefits for me to take away, potentially, someone’s landowner rights,” he said.

Stacy said she believes state law protects the county in several ways by requiring companies on wind projects to follow guidelines, including road-use maintenance agreements and working with local agencies on emergency training.

Stacy said the AEZ is a tool for the county to improve the economy.

“I’m elected to do what I feel is best for Seneca County,” she said.

Stacy said the project is slated to bring millions of dollars to several entities within the county, including Seneca County’s General Fund, the Seneca County Opportunity Center, Clyde-Green Springs schools, Mohawk schools, Seneca East schools, Vanguard-Sentinel, Tiffin-Seneca Public Library and the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties. The Republic Wind Project is slated to bring about $93 million in additional tax revenue over 30 years.

Stacy said the money generated by the project will help entities with a new revenue stream without asking residents for a tax increase.

Kerschner said the anti-wind group believes the additional funding does not outweigh the consequences of the projects.

Aichholz said if the AEZ is rescinded, it wouldn’t necessarily kill alternative energy projects.

“Every project the wind turbine companies propose would have to have its own negotiated deal in place with the county,” he said. “This will put the county in a much more advantageous spot when weighing the benefits and consequences from these projects.”

Kerschner said it is not clear if rescinding the AEZ would affect pending, approved projects such as the Republic Wind project.

Aichholz said he and other wind union members are disappointed in Stacy’s decision, but that won’t stop them from continuing to fight for what they believe.

“While we are extremely disappointed, we will use this to motivate and strengthen our efforts,” he said. “We are certain that as people continue to become aware of all of these potential wind turbine projects in Seneca County, they will join our movement.”

Aichholz said those interested in the cause can find the group on Facebook.

In other business, the board approved:

* A $40,000 appropriation adjustment within the M&R Fund.

* A $527 supplemental appropriation to the County Sewer District Fund.

* A contract with Ward Construction Co.

* The sale of a 1995 International dump truck.

* Appointing Michelle Blonde to the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library Board of Trustees.

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