Anti-wind group touts flips

PHOTO BY JIMMY FLINT Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner (left) answers a question Monday night at a Seneca Anti-Wind Union town hall event at Mohawk Community Center.

SYCAMORE — Seneca Anti-Wind Union leaders recapped recent successes, provided information about potential wind turbine projects in the county and answered questions for a group of about 100 who attended a town hall event in Sycamore Monday night.

Greg Smith, a Bloom Township resident who lives in the project area for sPower’s Seneca Wind project, provided information about several wind turbine projects slated for Seneca and surrounding counties and said the cause has gained momentum.

Smith said the Seneca Wind Project and the Republic Wind Project, which is being administered by APEX Clean Energy, each have applications under review by the Ohio Power Siting Board. The group must approve the applications before construction can begin. Smith said OPSB has approved all 13 applications it has received.

The Seneca Wind Project would stretch across about 25,000 acres — in Eden, Bloom, Scipio, Reed and Venice townships — and could include about 70 turbines.

The Republic Wind Project would cover about 30,000 acres in Seneca and Sandusky counties — roughly south of Green Springs, north of Republic and southwest of Bellevue. The project plans for about 58 turbines. The proposed turbines are as tall as 591 feet tall with blades as long as 445 feet.

Smith said the Republic project is about “three or four months” ahead of the Seneca project.

He said several politicians have listened to those protesting the wind projects and have changed their positions, representing progress for those opposing the projects and opposing less restrictive setback regulations.

Smith said the anti-wind cause also has gained some notable supporters in the past couple months.

He said the group earned a win June 5 when Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner made a motion to rescind the county’s Alternative Energy Zone, which would make the wind projects less financially feasible.

Smith said the zone, which the county joined in 2011, is a “welcoming mat” for wind projects. He said it allows companies to avoid personal property tax and instead pay through a PILOT — payment in lieu of taxes — program. APEX Clean Energy officials have said the Republic project could bring more than $90 million to townships, schools, landowners with leases and the county over 30 years.

“It’s basically a tax abatement,” he said. “Our point is, are the benefits worth the cost all of us are going to be paying?”

Smith said there are several negatives landowners who live near turbines would have to deal with. He mentioned falling property values, noise, shadow flicker, the unsightliness of turbines and potential danger to life or property via fires or mechanical malfunctions. Smith also mentioned the potential effect on wildlife, citing a Denver Post report that states 300-500 eagles are killed annually by turbines.

Although Kerschner’s motion to rescind the zone did not receive a second last month, it has not stopped him from continuing to fight.

“The majority of folks in Seneca County don’t want these projects,” he said Monday night.

A resident asked Kerschner if fellow commissioners Shayne Thomas and Holly Stacy may reconsider their vote on the rescinding the AEZ.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” he said.

Kerschner gained an ally June 26 when 88th District State Rep. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, announced he supported the more strict 2014 setback requirements for turbines.

Sen. Dave Burke, R-Marysville, who represents Ohio’s 26th District, backed Reineke’s position the next day.

“It was a pretty good week for us,” Smith said. “It’s refreshing to see politicians who listened and learned.”

Kerschner said Reineke and Burke came to the “right conclusion.”

“Don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t a lot of elected officials who back your cause,” he said.

Smith said a large contingent of anti-wind union members attended an Ohio Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting June 20 to oppose Substitute House Bill 114, which would have relaxed 2014 setback laws.

Smith said then that about 20 testimonial letters were submitted and presented and 36 additional letters were submitted that opposed looser setbacks. Kerschner was among those who submitted testimony.

He thanked all who have made their voices heard.

“This is America, this is Democracy,” he said.

Smith said it was a victory for the group when the bill died in committee June 27.

“I think we helped raise concerns (by testifying),” he said. “It did not even make it to the Senate floor. The setback issue is going to keep coming back though, we’re going to have to fight and fight and fight.”

Smith encouraged those in attendance to continue educating themselves and to let their voices be heard. He also said he believes government officials must heed the advice of those in other areas who have seen similar projects erected.

“I have more faith and confidence in those who have lived through it, we have a lot to learn from them,” he said. “I fear in five years, we’ll have lawsuits, hearings and we’ll be pleading to politicians, but it’ll be too late then. Once they’re up, they’re up.”