County board hears anti-wind sentiment

PHOTO BY JIMMY FLINT More than 100 people gather Wednesday night for a Seneca County Board of Commissioners meeting in Flat Rock.

FLAT ROCK — More than 100 people attended a Seneca County commissioners meeting Wednesday night in Flat Rock, with the majority of them voicing displeasure with several wind turbine projects pending within the county.

The meeting included more than 90 minutes of discussion between concerned residents and commissioners.

One of the projects discussed is APEX Clean Energy’s Republic Wind Project, which could bring 55-58 turbines, mostly in Seneca County. The proposed project in Seneca and Sandusky counties covers about 30,000 acres — roughly south of Green Springs, north of Republic and southwest of Bellevue. The turbines would generate about 200 megawatts of electricity and APEX officials claim the 30-year deal would bring about $38 million to landowners, $36 million to schools and $18 million to the counties and townships. More than 800 homes are to be affected by the turbines.

Dalton Carr, a development manager for APEX, said about $92 million would be the bare minimum provided to the community and would be provided even if turbines do not operate. He said if the project fails, a bond is taken out to make sure all turbines are decommissioned.

Deb Hay, of Thompson Township, said she opposes wind turbine projects in the county. She said the 591-foot turbines have a rotor diameter of about 446 feet and could pose safety concerns for residents who live near them.

Commissioner Holly Stacy said without looser regulations, which are pending at the state level, wind projects likely would not be economically feasible for the area.

Hay said she was concerned about unsafe setback requirements that would come from the loosening of state restrictions.

“I am simply resolved not to let big wind and their allies ruin rural Ohio with unsafe and unsightly, expensive and intermittent wind turbines just to line the pockets of a few farmers willing to sell their neighbors down the river,” she said.

Hay said setbacks in Ohio already are less restrictive than in many other states.

“I’d like to see our (commissioners) come up with safety standards, support us and support the county,” she said.

Ron Kelbley, a member of the Seneca Anti-Wind Union, said in addition to the Republic Wind project, two other projects could affect Seneca County. He said eventually there could be about 180 turbines in the county.

Seneca County resident Jessica Cornett owns a home near a proposed project and said she has five children. She said her kids could be negatively affected because she believes the project is unsafe.

Cornett told commissioners they are primarily responsible for the health and safety of constituents.

“Not financial income … health and safety. How are my kids going to be safe?” she said as several in attendance cheered.

Cornett also said she was concerned about the frequencies emitted by the turbines that could be adverse to brain health.

“It affects your brain waves, this is serious,” she said. “I’m talking about our children. I want my commissioners to respond to the people who elected them, to keep us safe and do justice for us.”

Several other residents commented on the project’s possible disruption of birds or other wildlife, the potential decrease in property values and sound produced by turbines. Others threatened not to re-elect board members if the project was not halted.

Commissioner Mike Kerschner said turbines have been discussed for four to five years and he said the board has received just as much correspondence from people who support the turbine projects.

“We get literature from a number of folks,” he said. “We talk about what happens to the value of property. Many studies say there is a decrease, some of them say it is stable and some of them say it’s actually an increase. I’m just telling you the info we are receiving.”

Carr said there have been studies in the past nine years to address many concerns mentioned and said the project could not move forward without approval of the Ohio Power Siting Board.

Bloomville fire department chief Nate Blaser asked commissioners how the turbines would affect air ambulance helicopters.

“In Wisconsin, there are large areas uncovered by air ambulance because the number and size of the turbines,” he said.

Carr said the company is obligated to work with air space regulations and the project was under review at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Some posed concerns about what would happen if turbines fall into disrepair.

Carr said each project will have 10 full-time employees and the turbines will be staffed 24/7. He also said the life expectancy for the turbines is 20-40 years.

County resident Ted Thompson asked commissioners how to stop the Republic project and others.

Kerschner said he has not been able to find a specific path for those trying to halt the projects.

Stacy said if state regulations are not loosened, that could stop them.

“That’s what these companies have said. Without those changes, it doesn’t work,” she said, adding that no new permits had been granted in the state since setback laws were made more strict four years ago.

Stacy said it is the state’s responsibility, not the county’s, to change setback laws.

Joe Anderson, who said he lives outside of Republic, asked commissioners to work on removing the county from the Alternative Energy Zone, enacted by previous commissioners, which provides tax breaks that make the Republic project and others economically feasible.

Commissioner Shayne Thomas said the OPSB is taking feedback on the wind projects and told residents to reach out to the organization.

Thomas argued that even without the AEZ and without less restrictive setback laws, companies still could choose to lease land from local farmers and move forward with wind turbine projects.

“There’s a demand for renewable energy,” he said.

Kerschner said he initially thought it possible to place a referendum on the ballot, but later learned that that would not be likely.

“There really isn’t a path for getting this on the ballot because it’s a state issue, therefore it would be a statewide referendum,” he said.

Kelbley said there could be an amendment to state legislation that would allow a more local referendum, but this proposal has not been approved.

Blaser asked commissioners if they were open to rescinding the AEZ.

Thomas and Stacy said they were open to continuing to research the matter before making a decision. They both mentioned researching new information, such as the deterrence of air ambulance coverage in some areas due to the project.

Kerschner said he was open to rescinding the zone.

“If I get the sense that the majority of people in Seneca County wished for the AEZ to be rescinded, then I would (vote) to rescind it,” he said.