PAULDING - A group of farmers in Paulding County has filed suit against the state of Ohio, alleging that the Ohio General Assembly violated the state constitution when it passed a dramatic increase in wind setback mandates.

In a case joined by the wind industry, the farmers assert that the legislature passed the amendment in House Bill 483 in 2014 in a totally unrelated piece of legislation, which is in violation of the "single subject" rule. The legislature adopted the surprise mandate just before the bill's passage, without any opportunity for input from affected landowners. Plaintiffs are requesting that the court strike down the provision due to this egregious constitutional violation.

The lawsuit was filed today, Nov. 12, in Paulding County Common Pleas Court.

Prior to HB 483, the minimum wind turbine setback distance from a neighboring property line was “1.1 times the height of a turbine.” The minimum setback from a habitable structure was 1,125 feet measured from the tip of the turbine blade. HB 483 replaced the property line setback with the much longer statutory minimum habitable structure setback distance – 1,125 feet.

Prior to enactment of HB 483, 12 commercial-scale wind farms were approved by the Ohio Power citing Board, but since the bill’s passage, there have been zero, according to the lawsuit. Every Ohio wind project under development has been abandoned or stalled. Meanwhile, private demand for wind energy has skyrocket, documents stated.

The plaintiffs claim the current setbacks “will continue to harm development and deprive local landowners and communities of the substantial economic and environmental benefits of wind energy.”

"We strongly support this action," said Tony Zartman, Paulding County commissioner. "In fact, our concern over this unconstitutional maneuver is so great that we are currently considering joining the case ourselves. We believe filing this lawsuit is in the best interest of our community and our future economic growth."

"It's incredibly unfortunate that the last four years of potential economic development in our community have been thwarted by an unconstitutional provision that was snuck into an unrelated piece of legislation," said Roy Klopfenstein, Paulding County commissioner. "Had we had a chance to comment on the amendment, perhaps the outcome would have been different. Fortunately, the court has an opportunity to right this wrong and open our community to these jobs and economic prosperity."

The single subject rule in the Ohio Constitution states that "no bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title." The purpose of this rule is to prevent the legislature from engaging in "logrolling" - the practice of combining unrelated proposals to appeal to legislators that may support the entire proposal in order to secure some part of it.

On March 20, 2014, the state legislature passed HB 483, which dealt with taxes and spending for social programs, but became littered with unrelated provisions at the eleventh hour. The wind setback provision appeared in the bill for the first time during the 12th and final committee hearing. There was no opportunity for public testimony and the legislature failed to consult with affected farmers or the wind industry to assess its impact. Since its passage, this provision has created a functional moratorium on new wind development statewide.

"Wind developers are positioned to invest billions of dollars in new clean energy projects in Ohio," said Bruce Burcat, executive director of Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition. "Establishing responsible property line setbacks, that restore the property rights of individual farmers, will make new investment possible that will generate much needed revenue for rural families and communities."

"Constitutionality of the provision aside, it's imperative that Ohio finds a way to improve the wind setback requirement to a distance that permits wind energy development," said Mikayla Pieper, director, Paulding Chamber of Commerce. "Opening our state for wind development will help attract business to our state, as well as create new opportunities for existing Ohio businesses. We look forward to the court's action in this case."

Additional plaintiffs include Paulding County landowners Barbara Jean Morris of Paulding, Ronnie and Victoria Kadesch of Paulding and Richard King of Payne. Counsel for the plaintiffs are Norman E. Cook and  Brian S. Gorrell of Paulding and Jonathan R. Secrest and David A. Lockshaw Jr. of Dickinson Wright PLLC, Columbus.

– Additional reporting by Progress staff