McColley meets with Putnam County Commissioners - Putnam Sentinel
State Senator from the 1st District, Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) discusses the details of a draft proposal for wind farms with Putnam County Commissioners Michael Lammers, John Love, Vincent Schroeder, and County Administrator Jackson Betscher. (Putnam Sentinel/Martin Verni)

PUTNAM COUNTY — Last Thursday, Feb. 1, State Senator Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) of Ohio’s 1st District, which includes Putnam County, stopped by the commissioner’s office for an impromptu visit. McColley had some time available between meetings and knew that the county’s commissioners would be in session. As the visit was unscheduled, the commissioners were free to bring up any subject they felt would be of importance to their constituents, the county’s residents.

Most of the discussion centered on proposed changes to wind turbine setback rules. McColley had recently reach out to the commissioners for input on an idea he has put forth that would grant local control to the final decision to build a utility-scale wind farm in any given area of the state.

“It’s something that this area of the State, primarily Paulding and Van Wert counties, but also Putnam County is going to be the area of the state that is arguably most affected by anything that we do,” noted McColley at the beginning of the conversation. “And so, we need to make sure that whatever we do is reflecting a concern for the property rights of individuals here in this area.”

“The current law that we have right now has two types of setbacks,” continued McColley. “The first setback is what I would call a “fall” setback. In case a turbine falls, it’s not going to fall on somebody else’s property line. So the “fall” setback is one point one times the height of the turbine (with a blade sticking straight up), to the property line. These turbines are anywhere from 400 to 500 feet, when it comes down to that. So, that’s one of the setbacks.”

“The other setback is what I call “the safety circle.” That’s where you get a setback that is over 1,000 feet (under current law), to the property line. That’s meant to be a “safety circle”, so, ice thrown, the turbine catches on fire, any of these other things, that’s about the distance that any of those things are going to be able to travel. At least, that’s what it’s meant to be.”

McColley then went on to detail the proposed changes that are in the current draft of the new proposal. “The proposed law increases the fall distance to one point two [times the height of the turbine] to the property line, but the safety circle, rather than being drawn to the property line, it’s being drawn to the nearest occupied residence.”

“And so, the concern that many people have with that is, potentially, you get in a situation where somebody is, you know, that safety circle goes into someone’s parcel, particularly along their frontage, you’re potentially taking away that person’s ability to develop their frontage. Or, maybe, even just, ‘We’re on the family farm. I have son who, after he gets married next year, wants to take two and half acres and put up his own home, just down the road from us. If he’s in that safety circle, their probably going to be hard pressed to want to do that. And that’s without being compensated.”

“So that’s the rub in all of this,” said McColley. “We need to come up with something that reflects actual, local desire to do this. Which is why I’ve been trying to make a comparison here that this is more of a zoning issue than anything. Because you’re changing, not only the use of the property that will participate, but you’re also changing the potential use for properties that are not participating.”

“You may or may not [build], but that’s your property. If somebody is taking away the potential possible development and possible future value of your property, that’s what zoning laws are made for. They’re made to not only protect from unintended use in a zoning area, but they’re also meant to protect from one neighbor’s use or one landowner’s use encroaching upon another landowner’s quiet use and enjoyment of their own property.”

Though a seemingly reasonable position, but not everyone agrees, as pointed out by Andrew Gohn with the American Wind Energy Association. "We appreciate State Sen. McColley’s attention to resolving the current unworkable wind farm setback structure," says Gohn. "Unfortunately, this proposal to expand local control championed by long-time wind opponent State Rep. Seitz would strip property rights away from individuals by subjecting private land use decisions to community referendum."

"No other energy source or infrastructure project is subject to such an uncertain process and variable standards. The simple fact is that Ohio landowners and communities lose when multi-million dollar wind farms pass on Ohio in favor of neighboring states offering more balanced setback regulations. We look forward to working with the Ohio legislature to enact smart setback reform, like State Sen. Dolan’s SB 238, that would both protect the property rights of individuals and provide a reasonable level of regulatory certainty for the wind industry.”