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Wind farm controversy in rural Ohio: Crawford County voters will likely decide if wind turbine plans can proceed

by Aug 4, 2022Local News

When the Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 52 last summer it gave local authorities the ability to quash proposed wind farms rather than leave their fate to the Ohio Power Siting Board.

The Crawford County commissioners took advantage of that law in May when they created a wind farm exclusion zone to prevent Apex Clean Energy from moving ahead with its proposed 300-megawatt Honey Creek Wind project north of the county seat of Bucyrus.

But rather than give up on its plans for the wind farm, Apex is taking advantage of another aspect of Senate Bill 52 – going straight to the voters through a referendum to reverse the commissioners’ action. That would enable the Virginia-based company to submit its wind farm proposal to the Siting Board, which must approve all utility-scale power projects.

Apex appears to have enough valid signatures for the question to be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot, Crawford County Commissioner Larry Schmidt said.

“Had they not gotten the signatures, that in itself would have been a referendum,” Schmidt said. “But they did get the signatures and it will be on the ballot and everybody will get a choice.”

Apex estimates that the project will require 50 to 80 turbines and that they will be about 600 feet high when measured from the ground to the tip of a blade projecting straight up.

While other exclusion zones have been created by Ohio counties, the Honey Creek project represents the first challenge via referendum.

The controversy around wind farms

Wind farms have become controversial in Ohio since several popped up in the state, primarily in the northwest counties of Paulding and Van Wert.

In response to rural concerns, the Ohio legislature in 2021 passed SB 52, which along with stricter setback requirements subsequently made large-scale wind projects in the state a tough sell.

But Apex believes wind is still viable, thanks in part to taller turbines that can generate more megawatts than shorter turbines, allowing for fewer of them to make a project economically feasible.

The commissioners created the exclusion zone after being petitioned by an anti-wind group, said Doug Weisenauer, who has served as a county commissioner for 14 years.

Weisenauer, a one-time farmer who lives in the area where the wind farm would be located, opposed the exclusion zone but it passed, 2-1. He said questions of zoning should be left to the people, not the commissioners, and that creating the exclusion zone was no guarantee that enough signatures would be obtained to allow for a referendum.

He also said excluding wind farms deprives property owners of a way to earn income and that it amounts to government seizure.

“It has nothing to do with me being pro-wind or anti-wind,” he said. “It’s free enterprise. This is a free country.”

Fellow Commissioner Larry Schmidt, who sold his NAPA Auto Parts store before becoming a commissioner two years ago, was less willing to discuss his views.

He said the reason he voted for the exclusion zone was because he wanted the people decide and the only way that could happen is if an exclusion zone were created first, thus allowing for a referendum to follow.

“Personally, I just want people to have the right to vote on it,” he said.

Commissioner Tim Ley, who also voted for the exclusion zone, could not be reached.

Weisenauer said he believes the rural areas of the county are pretty well split on the issue, but County Prosecutor Matthew Crall said that was not the case at a public hearing held at the Crawford County Fairgrounds prior to the commission creating the exclusion zone.

Crall, who presided over the hearing, said there were maybe 1,000 people in attendance and that it appeared about 80% of them were for the exclusion zone and that speakers were about 2-to-1 for it.

One of the complaints was that the turbines would be among the tallest in the county, “higher than the Statue of Liberty,” Crall said.

Competing views

The website Crawfordantiwind.com lists a number of concerns in somewhat sensational fashion. Apex plans to hold a public information session on the project on Aug. 10 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Trillium Event Center in Bucyrus.

Weisenhauer, for one, said he is not paying attention to the various claims either side is making.

“I’ve done my research. I’ve done my own homework,” he said. “I have not listened to the propaganda from either side. I make my own decisions.”

All sources of energy have their advantages and disadvantages, he said. “There is no full-proof answer.”

Weisenhauer said it’s no different than back in the 1930s when power lines and telephone polls started popping up along the roadside ditches.

“People were upset about that,” he said. “They didn’t want to look at it.”

Crall said that while the exclusion zone only pertains to rural areas and not municipalites, such as the cities of Bucyrus and Galeon and several villages, voters everywhere in the county will be able to particpate in the referendum.

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