The Ohio GOP takes up another front in its all-out assault on clean energy

Senator Bill Seitz

Ohio State Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati (courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch)

You know that saying “When God closes a door, he opens a window”? Well, these days in Ohio that should really be more like “When God opens a window, he then changes his mind and repeatedly slams it on your fingers.”

This morning, I briefly got my hopes up when I saw an alert from Gongwer Ohio that the Ohio House had delayed its vote on SB 310. The House GOP caucus had planned to vote the bill out of committee and bring it to the floor today, but given the mounting pressure from wide array of groups, including the business community, it pushed the vote into next week.

charles nelson batchelder

Speaker of the Ohio House William Batchelder

Mike Dittoe, the spokesman for Charles Nelson Reilly…I mean William Batchelder (R-Medina) told the Columbus Dispatch“Members just wanted to talk through the bill a little more.”

Obviously this should be great news. The last scheduled session for the Ohio House before the summer recess is next Wednesday. This would seem to suggest that, if opponents could keep the heat on for a little longer, the House may not pass it before going on vacation. Obviously thinking that is true is a bit naive, but a guy can dream.

So I signed up for a Gongwer trial to read more about the delay. And then I came across this story immediately thereafter: “MBR Amendment Imposes New Siting Requirements For Wind Farms” (subscription required).

From the story:

Senators finishing up work on Gov. John Kasich’s mid-biennium review Tuesday added a provision that the wind industry described as another severe setback for renewable energy in Ohio.

The proposal included in an omnibus amendment to the MBR appropriations measure (HB 483*) would require wind turbines be at least 1,125 feet from neighboring property lines. The current 1,125-foot setback distance applies to inhabited structures on neighbors’ land.

The amendment was adopted in the Senate Finance Committee at the same time the House is preparing to vote on a bill (SB 310*) that would restrict Ohio’s renewable energy standards. (See separate story)

Lobbyist Dayna Baird, who represents the American Wind Energy Association, said the new setback language would “effectively kill all wind development in the state of Ohio.”

For example, of the 152 turbines on the Blue Creek wind farm, the state’s largest wind energy project, only 13 could have been built had the new setback language been in place at the time, she said.

The proposed change comes after state’s wind turbine setback was expanded in last year’s budget bill (HB 59*) from 750 feet from inhabited structures to 1,125 feet from homes.

Did you catch that? The Ohio GOP, just a year after increasing the setback requirement for wind turbines by 50% from 750 to 1,125 feet, has now decided that restriction should apply to neighboring property lines, not residences/structures. It inserted this completely unrelated poison pill into the mid-biennium review budget (MBR) under the cover of night, knowing full well that opponents are already so busy taking on their other assault on clean energy, SB 310, our attention would be diverted.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, there are currently 10 wind projects awaiting approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board. These projects would bring a combined $2.5 billion in investment to the state, largely in underserved areas. But rather than encouraging these investments, which would create good jobs, pollution-free energy, and local tax revenues, the Ohio GOP decided to tell the wind industry to go screw itself.

All of these 10 projects were submitted under the old rule, which required a 750-foot setback. But this amendment will now change this requirement so that the setback applies to property lines, ensuring that they are not in compliance with the law. This change comes immediately on the heels of the Senate ramming multiple poison pills into SB 310 that will have similarly devastating effects on the industry. AWEA has warned that, if this amendment is approved, these 10 projects are dead in the water.

It bears repeating – clean energy employs more than 25,000 Ohioans, and the state currently has the largest wind-related manufacturing industry in the country. But apparently the GOP’s utter fealty to the fossil fuel industry blinds them to these realities and forces them to see anyone working in clean energy as a potential threat. Naturally, Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) immediately hailed the amendment, calling it “long overdue” and saying he “applaud[ed] it heartily.” When the guy who compared clean energy to the Bataan death march supports an amendment, that should tell you all you need to know.

The Ohio GOP is trusting that we are too distracted by SB 310 to pay attention to the rest of their full-frontal assault on this state’s clean energy industry. We can still hope that Governor Kasich uses his line-item veto to strip this provision out of the MBR bill, but that can only happen if we demand it.

  • Adjacent Landowner

    I live in one of those proposed wind farm sites. There are less than 30 landowners who want the project and have signed leases. There are 900 households within a one-mile radius that have no say in all of this. Most of the community is only learning about the project now, even though leases were signed four years ago. The foreign company planning the project intends to sell it once it is operational, running off with whatever tax money they can.

    I support the development of green energy, but not at the expense of people’s health. In my limited research, most areas of the world have larger setbacks than Ohio. We live on 6 acres. I support a setback from my property border, not just my house. We live in the country to enjoy the outdoors, and we should be able to enjoy our own yard.

    If you don’t live in a wind development or in a proposed area, you might not understand the concerns.

    • Tim

      Adjacent Landowner,

        I appreciate your willingness to comment on this issue here. I can certainly understand your concerns about the nature of the area where you live and the potential effects to the way and quality of life for you and your neighbors. It’s true that I live in the City of Cleveland, far from a hotbed for wind power development, so I cannot fully grasp all of the factors at play.

        That said, I would have to take exception to the arguments that you raise. First, Ohio’s siting rules are not particularly permissive, compared to other states. Here are the setback rules that I was able to pull together for a handful of other states (from ; ia href=”http://sbaustinlaw.com/library-papers/19StatesWindEnergyPaper.pdf” target=”_blank”>it was published in 2011, so some of these may be somewhat out of date, including Ohio):

          California: 500-1,000 feet from property lines or dwellings, depending on the municipality
          Indiana: 1,000 feet from a residence
          South Dakota: 1.1 times the the height of the turbine and at least 500 feet from a residence

        According to an international assessment conducted by the state of Minnesota, the average setback rule varies from 470-700 meters (1,542-2,297 feet), but this is from residences, not property lines. That is an important distinction that can affect the the viability of projects; it forces developers to find extremely large tracts of land to install turbines, regardless of the size of the project.

        As for your comment that you support green energy, “but not at the expense of people’s health,” I would agree with that, were the evidence on your side. It is not, however.

        All of the legitimate, peer-reviewed research suggests that so-called “wind turbine syndrome” is, in reality, a psychosomatic condition caused by the “nocebo effect.” This effect, which suggests that the suggestion of health issues can cause people to experience actual symptoms, appears to have started for wind sometime around 2009, when anti-wind power campaigns started in earnest. Interestingly, despite the fact that large-scale wind turbines have been in use for decades, these symptoms were not first reported until the end of the last decade. In fact, a 2013 study in PLOS One found that at least 90% of these health complaints did not occur until at least 2009.

        In a comprehensive 2013 review of 17 different studies on this topic, Merlin et al. concluded that the “evidence considered does not support the conclusion that wind turbines have direct adverse effects on human health.” The evidence simply does not exist to support the idea that wind turbines are bad for people’s health.

        On the other hand, ample evidence exists that shows fossil fuel extraction and combustion causes widespread, negative health impacts. Consider hydraulic fracturing. A study from January found that children born to mothers who lived within a 10-mile radius of a fracking well were 30% more likely to be born prematurely and/or underweight. Additionally, a 2012 study found that people living less than half a mile (2,640 feet) from a fracking well were more likely suffer from various maladies, up to and including cancer.

        Yet, despite these health impacts, the setback rule for a hydraulic oil/gas wells in Ohio is just 100-150 feet. Do you also support increasing this setback by at least 50% – as Ohio did last year for wind turbines – then retroactively making it apply to property lines, rather than residence?

      • Adjacent Landowner

        I don’t know a lot about setbacks for any industry. But, if I had to choose right now, I’d support those setbacks for oil/gas. If I was in that situation, I want a little space. That’s why I live in the country.

        I think setbacks absolutely should be based on property lines. I want to be able to enjoy all of my six acres, not just right around the house. 400 meters is not much distance here. It’s about that far to my neighbor’s house.

        My family has spent tens of thousands of dollars and years searching for medical answers for my daughter. After 10 years, we have her health under control. We don’t want to do anything to risk that. I have read a lot and understand that Pierpont’s research is dismissed by wind proponents. The idea that all of the ailments are based on the nocebo effect has also been discounted in studies.

        I am no expert. I’m just a lady who wants a healthy environment for my family. I know that not everyone reacts negatively to wind farms (physically). I’m hoping we won’t have problems. However, prolonged annoyance, disrupted sleep, infrasound effects…those really aren’t things I want to possibly sign up for over the next 20-30 years.

        I don’t plan on responding again. I just wanted to offer a different perspective. I think with proper siting, less government subsidies, etc. that wind might be a viable option. My right to enjoy my own property should not be dismissed.

        • If I came off as flippant or unsympathetic towards your concerns, I apologize for that. I don’t mean to trivialize your experience or the issue you are facing. Obviously the most important thing for you is the health of your daughter, which is correct. I am glad that she is better, and I surely would not want that to change.

          The point that I am trying to make is that I am attempting to approach this issue based on what the empirical evidence tells me. And what the overwhelming preponderance of evidence seems to indicate is that the deleterious health effects of wind energy are, at best, significantly overstated. That’s not to suggest that people cannot and do not experience these effects. But, given the coordinated effort to attack the wind industry from fossil fuel-funded groups (and I’m not trying to insinuate you are in any way affiliated with them) and the associated rise in complaints, it seems likely that there may be a nocebo effect at play here. Accordingly, I don’t blame anyone feeling these effects, I blame the opportunists who have whipped up a fury around what should be a non-issue.

          Additionally – and, again, I mean no offense and can appreciate your concerns – I would argue that, even if there were some impacts from wind turbines, such as anxiety or a loss of sleep, they would, on the whole, still come nowhere near the deleterious health impacts of building our society upon fossil fuel energy. According to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health, coal carries approximately $300-500 billion in total damages for the US annually. These stem from air pollution, water pollution, ecosystem degradation, soil contamination, etc. If we accounted for these impacts, they would triple the price of coal-fired electricity.

          I have suffered with asthma for much of my life. While it’s nearly impossible to attribute my condition to air pollution, I know that Northeast Ohio has some of the dirtiest air in the country. Additionally, I know that air pollution is both a root cause of the condition and a proximate driver of asthma attacks. The WHO says that air pollution is a known carcinogen (an 8-year old in China was diagnosed with lung cancer last year due to it) that is responsible for 1 out of every 8 deaths globally.

          Moreover, switching from our reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is essential to curbing climate change; that same WHO already attributes 150,000 deaths annually to climate change, and that number is only going to increase if we do nothing to tackle the issue.

          So while I truly understand your concerns and have no desire to question your motives, I hope that you could see that fossil fuels are a far bigger public health threat to everyone in Ohio than wind energy is or can possibly be. Even the risk to birds is heavily overblown; reasonable estimates attribute 572,000 bird kills annually to wind turbines, compared to nearly a billion birds from other causes, including power lines, cats, and windows/buildings.

          You are certainly just as entitled to your opinion as am I, and I hope I don’t dissuade you from expressing it. I would just encourage you to dig a little deeper into this issue and weigh the facts carefully.

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