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renewable energy bill

Athens officials, residents react to potentially controversial Ohio Senate bill

A new Ohio Senate bill would allow townships to approve or deny neighboring renewable energy sources like solar or wind.

Senate Bill 52, sponsored by Representatives Bill Reineke and Rob McColley, would require those looking to install sources of renewable energy to receive permission from neighboring townships. 

Councilwoman Chris Fahl, chair of the Planning and Development Committee for the City of Athens, said its use will depend upon geography. With Senate Bill 52 primarily targeting wind renewable sources, it will most likely be more pertinent to the Northwestern section of Ohio, where wind farms are common.

Fahl stated that the bill reminded her of the Clean Ohio grant, which allows for the protection of green space, where cities and townships were granted veto rights.

“A small group gets to say no to something that could be huge,” Fahl said. “(Something that could be) regionally large and (bring) lots of business and lots of jobs. And so this is the tyranny of the minority.” 

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson had similar sentiments as Fahl. 

“That's what really troubles me. Is this a play to restrict, at the township level, … solar farm development?” Patterson said. “And what troubles me even more is what we need to be doing more of in the state of Ohio is allowing for the generation of renewable energy, i.e. wind and solar, as opposed to having the coal-powered or gas-powered electric generation.”

Patterson said he also believes Senate Bill 52 will be impacted by geographic location, and its use would be considered on a township-by-township basis.

For Athens, however, he does not see it being used. Patterson said Athens’ previous environmentally-friendly voting records indicated the area would be fine supporting future renewable sources. 

“I don't see it having any impact, quite honestly, on half of the county, because we, I believe, are good stewards of our region and doing everything we can to drive down our carbon emissions,” Patterson said. 

Fahl, agreeing with Patterson, said Athens’ home rule would prevent this bill from having any major impact. Home rule is the practice of citizens governing where they live. 

“Home rule is a really important aspect here. The legislation is trying to take away home rule, is trying to give the tyranny of the minority to groups (like) township trustees, and it stymies a lot of economic development,” Fahl said. 

Hunter Uhl, a junior studying environmental sciences and geography, believes the bill could prove troublesome for Southeast Ohio. 

“For Southeast Ohio, I'd be worried about a small community that might be less inclined to lean into renewables,” Uhl said. “And then that would lead to a large portion of Southeast Ohio not using that, in my opinion, better form of energy.”

However, she did believe that, due to its environmental consciousness, Athens would be relatively removed from the bill. She also felt its use would come down to the political alignment of certain counties.

In terms of Athens’ environmental goals, Patterson said his, as mayor, are lofty.

“What I'm trying to get the council to bring forward is a resolution that would put down a goal of reducing our city's carbon emissions by 50% by 2030,” he said.

While he acknowledges that 50% carbon reduction may be a tall task, Patterson believes it will be reached due to Athens’ previous environmentally-driven milestones.

“We're constantly pushing it, we know what we need to do,” Patterson said. “I can see the vision in front of me, and we're gonna get there one way or another.”


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