- The Washington Times - Friday, April 22, 2022

It took all of 30 seconds for Ohio state regulators to deliver another nail in the coffin of a $92 million wind farm proposal that had been years in the making.

The Ohio Power Siting Board unanimously denied a request last month to reconsider approval for the Republic Wind Farm. The commercial-scale renewable energy project by Virginia-based developer Apex Clean Energy would have installed up to 50 wind turbines in Seneca and Sandusky counties, southeast of Toledo.

Apex’s goal was to produce 200 megawatts of electricity, enough to power roughly 62,000 homes per year.

Although a major letdown for the developer, the rejection was a victory for many residents and elected officials who lobbied against the project.

“It’s David versus Goliath. These guys have all the money in the world to pay so-called experts to get their opinions and put papers together,” Chris Aichholz, a member of the citizen-led Seneca County Anti-Wind Union, told The Washington Times. “We had as many as six projects being proposed at once here. It was going to completely change the entire landscape of our area.”

The Ohio wind farm was the latest defeat in a long line of U.S. energy projects, renewable and fossil fuels alike, after immense pushback from local communities and elected officials.

The global spike in energy costs and pressure for countries to accelerate their transition to clean energy have led to increased scrutiny of domestic energy ventures, no matter where or what type.

Renewable energy projects have become particularly unpopular because of a “not in my backyard” mentality, misinformation, and a war between environmentalists and conservationists.

President Biden and other Democrats in Washington are pushing for an expansion of green energy sources to combat climate change.

“The environmental movement cut its teeth on being opposed to things like pipelines, power plants or big [energy] infrastructure in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The old-school environmental movement grew up around opposing things,” Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin’s Webber Energy Group, said in an interview. “What we need to do for the environment today is different than what we needed to do yesterday, and those two groups are clashing together.”

Government entities across the country have rejected or restricted more than 300 wind projects since 2015, according to a database by author and journalist Robert Bryce. Nearly two dozen significant solar projects were rejected from 2017 to 2021.

For fossil fuel projects, the opposition comes down to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Comprehensive data could not be identified for rejected fossil fuel projects such as coal- or gas-fired power plants. Still, a review of local news coverage of energy proposals in the past several months indicates that government officials or voters batted down numerous plans to generate more power from fossil fuels and renewables.

Colorado regulators last month rejected a utility company’s request to operate a coal-fired power plant for another 12 years and instead signaled a desire to shut it down in 2029.

Last fall, New York state officials rejected applications for two natural gas power plants. The officials said the proposed projects were inconsistent with the state’s emissions goals and were not required for grid reliability.

Vermont’s lone wind project, which sought approval for just one wind turbine on a family farm, was withdrawn in 2020 over what the applicant described as a “political environment that is hostile to wind energy.”

A county planning commission in Northern California unanimously rejected a project with 71 winds turbines last summer.

At about the same time, a $1 billion project to transport hydropower from Canada to Maine was thrust into limbo after a majority of voters rejected the proposal, which was already approved and underway. A judge said the “public interest in participatory democracy is paramount.”

Arizona utility regulators rejected new clean energy rules in January for the second time in a year. The proposals would have significantly increased the state’s use of renewable energy by requiring utilities to get at least 50% of their power from non-carbon emitters by 2035 and 100% by 2070.

This month, voters in Lovell, Maine, overwhelmingly rejected a proposed 180-acre solar farm over concerns that it would harm the town’s mountain views and rural aesthetics. Meanwhile, residents in the small Arizona town of Randolph cheered a state commission’s rejection of a proposed expansion of a natural gas plant.

Federal officials in recent months have blocked the construction of an advanced nuclear reactor in Idaho, a $2 billion hydroelectric plant southeast of Los Angeles and a wind farm for dozens of turbines northwest of Sacramento, California.

Although many of these energy projects were controversial within their communities for one reason or another, Republic Wind Farm by Apex Clean Energy in Ohio seemed to face resistance on multiple fronts.

Residents and officials had concerns about the ground’s geological stability and were opposed to the sheer number and proximity of the proposed turbines. Many were exposed to misinformation from local Facebook pages. 

Ohio Power Siting Board Chair Jenifer French acknowledged last summer, when the panel first rejected the project, that public input played a major role in the decision. The board had unanimously approved a similar Apex Clean Energy wind farm in a separate county with far less local resistance.

“The facts in this case, including substantial local government opposition, lead me to believe that, overall, this project is not in the public interest,” Ms. French said as the board rejected the Republic Wind Farm.

Apex Clean Energy declined to comment for this article. It has until May 16 to appeal its rejection to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Analysts say misinformation about renewable energy proposals has become more common. Researchers who examined Facebook posts from the Seneca County Anti-Wind Union page and a similar anti-wind page concluded that public opposition resulted from a “corrosive community framework” of misleading or debunked information about health or public safety risks.

Mr. Aichholz rejected that notion.

“We never knowingly spread misinformation. There’s always going to be that accusal of misinformation,” he said. “But I would argue there’s plenty of misinformation on the other side as well.”

Misinformation from a similar Facebook page, separate from the Seneca County Anti-Wind Union but focused on the same wind farm project, included posts about wind turbines causing animal birth defects and behavioral changes, an inability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, operational failures, and shedding debris.

The Department of Energy disclosed that just 0.001% of the total wind turbines as of 2014 had failed.

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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