Wind and Solar Local Referenda Bill Undergoes Changes

Tuesday evening, the latest iteration of Senate Bill 52 was introduced in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

The original language of the bill subjected wind and solar projects to township-by-township referenda in addition to the state Ohio Power Siting Board process. During opponent testimony a few weeks earlier, the Ohio Chamber outlined their concerns with the dangerous precedent this bill sets as well as the regulatory uncertainty it presents to developers and investors. SB 52 would also apply retroactively to pending certificate and certificate amendment applications, which were filed under a regulatory regime that did not contemplate a local vote.

One of the most notable changes in the new iteration of SB 52 is that the process is moved from the township to the county level. Six months before filing with the Ohio Power Siting Board, a developer must notify and propose a project to the County Commissioners. This proposal must include the type of generation, maximum number of megawatts and the boundaries/general footprint of the project area. This would trigger a 90-day window in which commissioners would have three options: do nothing, which would deem the project approved; pass a resolution barring the project; or pass a resolution limiting the geographic area of the project. The County Commissioners could also pass a resolution closing the county to wind or solar development or designate an energy development zone to limit projects to a certain area.

Another new concept of the bill is the rebuttable presumption at the OPSB. Within 60 days of a siting application, the County Commissioners or the Township Trustees could pass a resolution in opposition of the project if it is not of “public benefit” or “necessity.” The developer could then respond to the rebuttable presumption and go through the OPSB’s adjudicatory process.

While we still have concerns, most notably, about the possibility of SB 52 applying retroactively to pending certificate and certificate amendment applications filed under the current regulatory regime and the vagueness of the rebuttable presumption language, we look forward to continuing to engage with the sponsors of the bill to create more regulatory certainty in the siting process.