Commissioners clarify county stance on wind

Seneca County commissioners unanimously voted Thursday to send two letters clarifying the county’s position on issues related to the proposed Seneca Wind project.

One letter, written to the Ohio Development Services Agency, Columbus, clarified the commissioners’ intentions when they voted “sunset” the county’s former Alternative Energy Zone, which took effect June 30.

In a letter written by Commissioner Mike Kerschner and approved by commissioners Shayne Thomas and Tony Paradiso, they quoted the “sunset” resolution: “At that time the Alternative Energy Zone will rescind to new applications, thus sunsetting the Alternative Energy Zone program in Seneca County. Although the Seneca Wind and Republic Wind projects are accepted under the 2011 AEZ Agreement, if they must resubmit their application they would no longer be grandfathered under the agreement, based on a determination by the Ohio Power Siting Board.”

The commissioners discussed some apparent misinformation about the intent of the resolution.

“It is our understanding that with this resolution in place, sPower would not be grandfathered under the agreement for the Bloom Project,” the letter states.

The commissioners also clarified their stance on pending legislation that would provide for a local vote on wind projects.

“Also, please be advised that we are in unanimous support of a pending bill from William F Reineke endorsing a referendum vote for alternative energy projects,” the letter states.

In addition, the commissioners agreed to attach the letter to the Ohio Development Services Agency to a letter being sent to the Ohio Statehouse supporting more local control of utility-scale wind development.

“In Seneca County, we have had significant public discourse around the development of wind resources and utility-scale wind farms,” states the letter written by Thomas. “We have incredibly engaged citizens and public officials. If wind development moves forward in Ohio, then we feel duty-bound to offer our recommendations for improving the wind-development process.

“When originally conceived, the Alternative Energy Zone (AEZ) was intended to function as de facto local control,” the letter continues. “In 2011, the commissioners, with support from local landowners, passed the AEZ in Seneca County. In 2019, this board of commissioners sunset that AEZ. As technology has changed, there has been a significant reduction in the cost to develop projects. Given the dynamic nature of the industry, the current regulations have not kept pace with these changes. The evidence suggests that the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) structure contained within the AEZ is no longer the incentive or control it once was. Projects continue to develop in counties that don’t have (Seneca County) or never had (Huron County) an AEZ. It is, therefore, our recommendation that there be an effort undertaken at the Statehouse to return local control.”

The letter also notes the need for “present value calculation” when a PILOT is requested, and recommends “an early warning letter” be sent to residents of areas where wind projects are being considered.

“Earlier notification, clarity on taxation and stronger local control would be a valuable first step in developing a more balanced relationship between property owners, citizens, communities, elected officials and wind developers,” the letter said.

The commissioner agreed to send both letters and cross-reference them to each party.