Fill in the blank with SB 52

By Matt Reese

      A proposal to approve or reject the ______________ certificate or amendment issued for __________ in the unincorporated area of __________ Township, __________ County, Ohio, adopted on __________ (date) by the Board of Township Trustees of __________ Township,__________ County, Ohio.

      We, the undersigned, being electors residing in the unincorporated area of __________ Township, equal to not less than eight per cent of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor in the area at the preceding general election at which a governor was elected, request the Board of Elections to submit this proposal to the electors of the unincorporated area of __________ Township for approval or rejection at a special election to be held on the day of the primary or general election to be held on __________ (date), pursuant to section 519.217 of the Revised Code.

This is language taken directly from Senate Bill 52 currently being considered by the Ohio Legislature. The first blank above is a result of a term I removed from the language (the rest of the blanks are really in there). I want you, for a moment, to consider that first, very important blank in the first sentence. The term I removed from that first blank space is: “utility facility.” SB 52 is aimed directly at wind and solar development in the state of Ohio.

The bill was designed to address the concerns of those opposed to wind and solar projects being proposed around Ohio and — most notably — in their backyards. Now, I fully recognize there are legitimate concerns about both wind and solar development in Ohio. There are also many benefits. Those pros and cons are not the focus of this particular column. What I instead hope you’ll think about here is that first blank spot. 

Essentially, SB 52 would put a community vote at the end of the development process for wind and solar projects, meaning big dollars have already been spent investing in and planning the effort before the community gets a say in what currently is a deal made between the landowner, the developer and the Power Siting Board. It puts a landowner’s rights to a community vote.

Peggy Kirk Hall, with the Ohio State University Ag and Resource Law Program, provided this update about SB 52 in the Ohio Agricultural Law Blog: 

“In addition to revising setback and safety specifications for wind turbines, this proposal would amend Ohio township zoning law to establish a referendum process for large wind and solar facility certificates. The bill would require a person applying for a certificate for a large wind or solar facility to notify the township trustees and share details of the proposed facility. That notification sets up opportunities for the township trustees or residents of the township to object to the application and submit the proposed application to a vote of township residents. A certificate would not take effect unless approved by a majority of the voters. A first hearing on S.B. 52 was held on Tuesday, Feb. 16 before the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee.”

Since then, Ohio’s lawmakers have heard a mountain of testimony on both sides of the issue. For all of the adamant wind and solar haters out there who initially think SB 52 sounds great, I would encourage you to think about that first blank spot, especially if you own land or are involved in Ohio agriculture. Think of all of the land uses for your community that could be inserted there instead. 

The thought process behind SB 52 has been floating around out there in the breeze for several years now. Initially the idea of this referendum was just directed at wind, but this time around things are heating up a bit more as solar has been added. What else could be added down the road? In February, the Toledo Blade ran a letter to the editor: “Give communities a say in CAFOs” in response to the possibilities that could unfold in a future with SB 52 as law. If communities get to vote on what they think a landowner should do with their property, where do landowner rights end and community rights begin? The answer is clearly not the property line.

Lawmakers are now carefully considering the future of SB 52 to address the many concerns regarding wind and solar development around the state. 

If you have a chance to talk with your Ohio lawmakers about this issue, please consider the precedent SB 52 would set and all of the land uses communities may not like (and decide should go up for a vote) when it comes to the future potential of filling in that first blank. And then, before you know it, the rest of those blanks could be filled by a township and county near you. 

Check Also

Ohio legislature spending energy on energy legislation

By Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program …

11 comments

  1. None of the sponsors of SB 52 actually talked to any township officials. Sounds like the idiocracy from Washington has moved to Ohio.

    • Sam, Your statement is FALSE. Many Seneca County Trustees have been involved in the inception of SB 52 and HB 118. They are very supportive of the bills because they have seen how under the current process zoned townships have ZERO local control over these massive industrial wind/solar projects.

  2. Matt, let me correct a few things here. First off, the process in which a vote COULD happen would be at the beginning and NOT at the end as you falsely have indicated in your article. This is necessary because originally HB 401 and SB234 had the referendum placed at the end of the OPSB process. Developers and others didn’t like this and said it needed to be at the beginning. So the sponsors re-introduced the language and moved it to the beginning of the OPSB process. Shockingly (sarcasm) the developers still are not happy. The developers regularly claim that the overwhelming majority of Ohioans support these projects – see links below – If that is the case then what is the big deal with these bills?

    Why take out utility facility? Just as a scare tactic? That’s why it specifically states utility facility. Meaning an industrial land use in an inappropriately zoned area. There is land that is zoned for industrial use and land that is zoned for rural/ag use. These bills just operate to clarify local zoning. Currently local zoning holds ZERO weight in the OPSB approval process. Local comprehensive land use plans (ours encourages preservation of ag) have ZERO weight in the OPSB approval process. These bills (HB 118 and SB 52) are attempting to fix an approval system that does NOT afford local Townships, Counties, local residents, etc.. any substantive local control. For reference one Township that I live on the border of actually has a zoning restriction on wind turbines. However, the current OPSB process circumvents this and gives it ZERO weight in the decision or approval of a project in this Township.

    Links:
    https://apnews.com/press-release/business-wire/business-renewable-power-generation-alternative-and-sustainable-energy-energy-industry-property-rights-859bddc2196e408aa5ec9976252744be
    https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2019/02/poll-conservative-ohio-voters-overwhelmingly-support-more-clean-energy/

    • The referendum in SB 52 is a a vote on the certificate for the project or an amendment to an existing project. There cannot be a certificate until after the initial process of siting, investigation, etc. has been completed. The referendum has to be at the end of the process that is costly and time consuming.

  3. The entire point of this article is based on a false premise. The bills would not interfere with the rights of property owners in any way other than what is currently in Ohio law, except for electrical generation facilities. Under Ohio law any other kind of commercial development in Ohio has to go through 3 stages: 1. the developer must obtain rights to the land (lease, option to buy, direct purchase, etc) 2. The developer must obtain zoning permission to build the proposed project. 3. The developer’s plans have to be approved by the state. HB52/HB118 would bring this same kind of process to wind and solar projects and would not change anything else about what a landowner can do on their property. To state differently is to mislead the public and leaves the impression that the person making the false statement is somehow working for the interests of the developers and against the interests of the landowners and citizens of Ohio. One can argue the benefits of wind and solar, but no community should be subject to being transformed into an industrial zone without the consent by vote of the local residents. Currently only utility facilities can do that and only wind and solar projects can do it on such a massive scale.

    • This bill absolutely would take away a landowner’s ability to use their land for solar or wind development if the local community votes against it.

  4. Why remove utility facility from the language? That’s spinning it big time. Rural Ohio is not zoned industrial period. And a utility facility IS industrial. Not one person in favor of this bill has ever hinted at restricting properly zoned land uses which includes agriculture or building a residence. So this article is riddled with flawed logic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *