Ohio lags neighboring states in both operating and planned wind energy capacity, and developers fear even slower growth as the state legislature considers limiting how close wind farms can be located from property lines.
Compared to its Midwestern neighbors Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, Ohio has the least amount of wind capacity, an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis shows.
Ohio, which last year reduced its renewable energy mandate from 12.5% by 2026 to 8.5%, has 761 MW of operating wind capacity, with another 2,088 MW in various stages of development, according to Market Intelligence data. Indiana has a voluntary goal to have 10% of its electricity come from clean energy by 2025 and allows sources such as clean coal and nuclear to meet a portion of the goal. Despite the target being voluntary, the state has 2,310 MW of wind capacity in operation, with 2,518 MW under development.
Michigan calls for 15% of its electricity supply to come from renewables by 2021, with a goal of 35% by 2025. In Illinois, the law calls for 25% of electricity supply to come from renewables by 2025, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker is supporting legislation to increase the standard to 40% by 2030.
Industry stakeholders point to siting as the obstacle to wind in Ohio.
"The biggest impediment to development in Ohio are the setback regulations that were enacted in 2014," Amy Kurt, senior manager of regional government affairs at project developer EDP Renewables North America LLC, said in an early January interview.
Bruce Burcat, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, whose membership includes utility-scale wind developers and wind manufacturers, also pointed to siting requirements set in 2014 budget legislation as a major reason for Ohio's lower amount of wind energy development.
The 2014 budget legislation required a turbine to be located at least 1,125 feet from the tip of the blade to the nearest property line and that the distance between its base and the nearest property line be equal to 1.1 times the height of the turbine. Before the 2014 legislation, the 1,125 feet could be measured from the nearest home or habitable residential structure.
While individual counties in other states have similar or even more restrictive requirements, Kurt said Ohio is the only state to her knowledge to set siting requirements at a state level. Indiana's setback requirements, for example, are set county-by-county, she said.
New siting requirements proposed in Ohio
The American Wind Energy Association, or AWEA, a trade group, said new requirements being proposed in Ohio House Bill 401 are a major concern to wind developers.
H.B. 401, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Bill Reineke, and its counterpart, Senate Bill 234, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Rob McColley, require wind farms of 5 MW or larger to be sited a certain distance from a property line based on the larger of two measurements. One method aligns with the current requirement of at least 1,125 feet from a property line. A second method refers to setback requirements in a turbine manufacturer's safety specifications.
In addition to the siting requirements, H.B. 401 lets permits for new and upgraded wind farms go before a local vote.
"This would single out wind as the only technology subject to local referenda," said Andrew Gohn, director of eastern state affairs at AWEA. "Already certified projects could be adversely impacted if any small change in project design forced a certification amendment."
The bill comes when the renewable industry also faces the aftermath of H.B. 6 that Ohio passed last year. The legislation provides a subsidy of $150 million a year to two in-state nuclear plants and additional subsidies to two coal plants owned in part by Ohio utilities. The legislation, enacted in July 2019, also reduced the renewables standard.
Potential impacts on development
The impacts of H.B. 401 depend on where projects are in the development process. EDP Renewables' 126-MW Timber Road IV Wind Farm in Paulding County, Ohio, which began operating in January, complies with the 2014 setback restrictions because it is built in an area of the state that has several other wind farms already, Kurt said, including three others by EDP. She said she is more worried about projects that have yet to file a permit application with the Ohio Power Siting Board, or OPSB, saying they could be impacted by the pending new regulations.
"If [developers] haven't made a big expense yet and are just dabbling around, I think they are likely to dabble elsewhere if the local referendum were to come to fruition," Kurt said.
Market Intelligence data shows Apex Clean Energy Inc. and Invenergy LLC as owners of the largest amounts of planned wind capacity in Ohio. Apex in November 2018 abandoned a planned project, citing the setback distance requirements.
On Jan. 21, developer Sustainable Power Group LLC, or sPower, decided to put its 212-MW Seneca County Wind Farm on hold and not refile an application to the OPSB. "We hope to do more work in Ohio in the future, but at this time, we are making the difficult choice to place our resources in other states where there is a greater potential for success," sPower CEO Ryan Creamer said. In August 2019, sPower withdrew its application to the siting board, noting an error in a permit received from a federal agency.
Seneca and Paulding counties, both in northwestern Ohio, have the most wind capacity when accounting for both operating and planned projects, according to Market Intelligence data.
Though the Senate Committee on Energy and Public Utilities resumed public hearings on S.B. 234 on Jan. 28, the House version has yet to be heard this year. "The bill is moving along and [we] will be having interested party meetings to iron out details," A. Nino Vitale, who chairs the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Jan. 14. "I don't have a timeline yet as to when we will hear the bill again in committee."