Editorial: Ohio’s needless new regulations on renewable energy

So much for the market being king.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, handed a huge advantage to the fossil-fuel industry Monday when he signed into law a bill that gives county commissioners across the state the power to stop wind turbine and solar power projects in unincorporated areas.

Coal and natural gas companies face no such restrictions.

As state Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, pointed out in explaining her opposition to the bill: “The legislature should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the energy sector in the state of Ohio.”

That’s exactly what this is, however much proponents of the change insist that they’re protecting rural Ohio from the ravages of wind turbines and solar panels. Never mind, apparently, that those technologies produce clean power that doesn’t contribute to climate change.

State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, painted a bleak picture of the dangers.

“They think it’s just fine to put these monstrosities all over rural Ohio, to ruin the landscape in rural Ohio, to create 600-foot-tall structures with moving parts where the blades break and the fires start and the birds and bats are chopped to smithereens,” he said.

Was he talking about wind turbines or a rampaging cyborg Godzilla?

We’d agree that most people probably wouldn’t want a wind farm nearby, but most people don’t want power lines, cellphone towers, wastewater-treatment plants, landfills or any number of other things near their homes, either.

Nor did a lot of people want the Nexus Pipeline running through their properties.

Yet that pipeline, which carries natural gas from shale fields in eastern Ohio to Michigan, is now fully operational. That, despite receiving significant pushback from residents along its route, which runs through Lorain and Medina counties.

The city of Oberlin and other communities sued to stop the project in federal court, but lost.

Although the Lorain County commissioners at the time sympathized with landowners and other pipeline opponents, there was little they could do to stop the project.

Under the legislation signed by DeWine, which takes effect in three months, the commissioners in office today would remain powerless to stop another natural gas pipeline from being built.

They will, however, be able put a halt to a specific wind or solar project, carve out certain areas where such projects would be barred or ban them entirely in the county.

Sure, proponents of renewable energy projects would be able to gather signatures to challenge such bans in a referendum, but it’s unclear how successful such an effort would be.

Those looking to build wind turbines or solar farms also will be required to hold public meetings before asking the Ohio Power Siting Board to approve a project. A local county commissioner and a township trustee would be temporarily added to the siting board to consider such projects.

Currently, the board decides which wind and solar projects get built. It already factors in local input, which is one reason it recently rejected a wind farm project in Seneca County.

That obviously wasn’t enough for state Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, who represents portions of Lorain County and sits on the siting board. He praised the bill, which received no Democratic votes, saying it would give citizens “a more active voice in industrial wind and solar development.”

But not coal or natural gas.

In fact, it’s hard to believe that Republicans would grant local governments what amounts to veto power over any other industry.

Perhaps in their zeal to regulate renewable energy sources Republicans forgot that wind and solar are part of a growth industry offering employment to their constituents, just as the fossil-fuel industry does. There’s a reason, after all, that Lorain County Community College offers training in those emerging technologies.

There’s no good reason for Ohio make it more difficult for wind and solar power to flourish.

— Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, July 14