Renewable Energy

Grain bin on country road with sign opposing solar development
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, January 20th, 2023

The solar energy “boom” in Ohio continues to encounter opposition from local communities that would be home to large-scale solar developments.  Yesterday, the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) denied a solar project application in Defiance County due to “general opposition by local citizens and governmental bodies.”  Just before the holidays, a project in Greene County met the same fate.  The cases now bring the number of solar project rejections in Ohio to three. Each one highlights the role community opposition can play in project denial, particularly when local governments are part of that opposition.  

How does OPSB review a proposed solar project?

The OPSB is responsible for reviewing applications for solar energy projects that are over 50 MW in capacity.  Currently, the members of the OPSB include the chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, directors of the EPA and departments of Agriculture, Development, Health, and Natural Resources, and a public member, along with four non-voting legislators.  In the future, a county commissioner and township trustee will also join in the OPSB review process.

Ohio law requires the OPSB to analyze eight criteria when reviewing an application and deciding whether to grant a certificate to construct a major utility facility.  The law states in Ohio Revised Code 4906.10(A) that OPSB shall not grant a certificate unless it finds and determines all of the following:

(1) The basis of the need for the facility if the facility is an electric transmission line or gas pipeline;

(2) The nature of the probable environmental impact;

(3) That the facility represents the minimum adverse environmental impact, considering the state of available technology and the nature and economics of the various alternatives, and other pertinent considerations;

(4) In the case of an electric transmission line or generating facility, that the facility is consistent with regional plans for expansion of the electric power grid of the electric systems serving this state and interconnected utility systems and that the facility will serve the interests of electric system economy and reliability;

(5) That the facility will comply with Chapters 3704., 3734., and 6111. of the Revised Code and all rules and standards adopted under those chapters and under section 4561.32 of the Revised Code. In determining whether the facility will comply with all rules and standards adopted under section 4561.32 of the Revised Code, the board shall consult with the office of aviation of the division of multi-modal planning and programs of the department of transportation under section 4561.341 of the Revised Code.

(6) That the facility will serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity;

(7) In addition to the provisions contained in divisions (A)(1) to (6) of this section and rules adopted under those divisions, what its impact will be on the viability as agricultural land of any land in an existing agricultural district established under Chapter 929 of the Revised Code that is located within the site and alternative site of the proposed major utility facility. Rules adopted to evaluate impact under division (A)(7) of this section shall not require the compilation, creation, submission, or production of any information, document, or other data pertaining to land not located within the site and alternative site.

(8) That the facility incorporates maximum feasible water conservation practices as determined by the board, considering available technology and the nature and economics of the various alternatives.

Once all required elements of an application for a certificate are submitted and the application is complete, which can take many months, the OPSB staff and board begins its evaluation of the application to decide whether to grant the certificate.  The review process, which might include intervening parties and multiple hearings, can last for many months or even a year or more.  During that time, the OPSB must examine the application to determine if it meets the criteria in ORC 4906.10(A), relying on the expertise and recommendations of OPSB technical staff. 

Recently approved solar projects

In December, the OPSB approved the application of Springwater Solar, a 155 MW solar project proposed to be built on 1,085 acres in Madison and Franklin counties, holding that the project met all of the criteria in ORC 4906.10(A).  The decision brings the total of approved solar projects in Ohio to 34, representing 6,175 MW to be built on 63,554 acres, as illustrated on the map below.  The map also displays additional pending applications totaling 3,139 MW and 29,076 acres.

Map

Description automatically generated

A picture containing table

Description automatically generated

Source:  Ohio Power Siting Board, available at https://opsb.ohio.gov/about-us/resources/solar-farm-map-and-statistics.

Recently denied solar projects

Two solar project applications recently reviewed by OPSB did not receive a green light from the board.  In December, the OPSB denied an application by Kingwood Solar that proposed to construct a 175 MW solar facility on 1,200 acres in Greene County.   And on January 18, the OPSB denied a Cepheus Energy proposal to construct a 68 MW solar project on 649 acres in Defiance County.  Before those two rejections, the OPSB had only previously denied one solar project application—the Birch Solar application rejected last October.  In all three instances, the OPSB based its denial on ORC 4906.10(A)(6), stating that the projects would fail to serve the “public interest, convenience, and necessity” due to general opposition.

In the Cepheus application, the board focused on local public interaction and participation, reviewing public testimony and 600 pages of public comments on the project.  The board also noted that seven local governments had expressed concern or opposition to the project, including the Defiance Soil and Water Conservation District, Delaware and Sherwood Township trustees, Defiance County Economic Development Office, Defiance County Board of Commissioners, Delaware Township Fire Department, and Sherwood Area Economic Development Corporation.

The interests of these impacted local government bodies was “especially compelling” given that the organizations have the responsibility for preserving the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens, OPSB noted.  Stating that there was “general opposition from local citizens and governmental bodies” and that local impacts would outweigh the project’s benefits, the board concluded that the project would not serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.

The Cepheus rejection is similar to the Kingwood Solar project denied by OPSB in December.  In that case, the board reviewed Kingwood’s assertions of the positive economic impacts and renewable energy choices the project would bring the community, then focused on local responses to the project.  About 76% of those testifying during a 6.5-hour hearing were opposed to the projects and expressed an overarching concern that the project was not compatible with local land use plans and would “unalterably change the rural nature of the community.”  The board also noted concerns by the Citizens for Greene Acres, a local group that intervened in the case, regarding the unique characteristics of the wildlife, parks, recreation, cultural, and historic areas that would be affected and the high density of residents that would reside within 500 feet of the project.

But once again, a critical concern for OPSB was the clear opposition of local governments impacted by the project.  Cedarville Township, Xenia Township, Miami Township, and the Greene County Commissioners had all intervened in the case and adopted resolutions opposing the project.  Although Kingwood Solar had agreed to address 39 conditions of development that it had offered in a Stipulation agreement, none of the local governments agreed to the Stipulation and instead opposed approval of the project.  OPSB concluded that local opposition, “especially as demonstrated by Greene County and the three townships affected by the project,” warranted a conclusion that the project would not serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.

Now what happens?

It’s typical in a rejection of a utility application for the developer applicant to exercise the right to request a rehearing. That has already occurred for the Birch Solar and Kingwood Solar projects, and we can expect a rehearing request for the Cepheus denial that just occurred on January 19.  Interestingly, it was not just the solar developer that requested a rehearing of the Kingwood project application—Greene County, the affected townships, and the Citizens for Greene Acres also requested a rehearing.   While those parties stated support for the decision of the OPSB that denied the certificate, they argue that in its findings, OPSB failed to determine that there were many other grounds for denying the certificate such as incompatibility with local land use planning, incapacitation of 1,025 acres of productive farmland, and negative local economic impacts. 

Now we await the determinations by OPSB on the rehearing applications.  The projects are each on hold, and construction cannot move forward unless the OPSB reverses its decision and approves the applications. 

More questions

The recent decisions by OPSB leaves us asking a few questions.  Does three rejections establish a trend in solar project denials due to community opposition?  Did the communities involved in the 34 solar projects approved by OPSB oppose those projects?  Do the local communities in the projects that are still pending before the OPSB oppose or support the projects, and how will community voices affect the review of those projects?  While we don’t have the answers, we’ll keep monitoring developments in large-scale solar development as we consider these important questions.

Christmas ornament of Ohio capitol hanging on tree
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, December 20th, 2022

A new law giving local governments zoning authority over small-scale solar facilities may feel like a gift to counties and townships dealing with solar development conflicts.  The late amendment was one of a few surprises from the legislature as it wrapped up its lame duck session last week. 

Several other pieces of legislation affecting agriculture and natural resources that passed include local preemption of pesticides, loosening oil and gas drilling reviews on state lands, and new knowledge requirements for environmental health specialists that inspect retail food establishments. Here’s a summary of the agricultural related bills that now await the Governor’s action.

Zoning authority over small scale solar -- H.B. 501

An amendment to a township bill will grant counties, townships, and municipalities regulatory authority overthe location, erection, construction, reconstruction, change, alteration, maintenance, removal, use, or enlargement of any small solar facility, whether publicly or privately owned, or the use of land for that purpose.” The bill defines a “small solar facility” as one that has a single interconnection point to the grid and is under 50 MW. That number is important, because it addresses solar facilities that were not subject to S.B. 52, passed last year, which gave counties and townships new authority over wind and solar facilities that are over 50 MW. 

Agriculture – H.B. 507

This bill began as a simple provision reducing the number of poultry chicks that can be sold in lots from six to three.  Before it passed, however, the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee added six amendments, including these:

  • Local preemption of pesticides

Prohibits a political subdivision from regulating or banning the packaging, registration, labeling, sale, storage, distribution, use, or application of a pesticide registered with ODA on private property.

  • Environmental health specialists and food safety regulations

Requires ODA and ODH to adopt new rules for evaluating Environmental Health Specialists’ knowledge of food safety laws and to include the evaluations when assessing a board of health’s ability to license retail food establishments and food service operations.  Also revises several food safety laws to align them with state and federal laws.

  • Green energy in competitive retail energy laws

Defines “green energy” to be any energy that releases reduced air pollutants and cumulative air emissions or is more sustainable and reliable relative to some fossil fuels or is generated using natural gas, but excludes natural gas energy from renewable energy credits, except for gas from biologically derived methane.

  • Internet sales exemption from auction laws

Exempts from auctioneer and auction firm licensure requirements a person who, in any
calendar year, sells not more than $10,000 of personal property via an auction
mediation company (for example, eBay) if the company provides fraud protection to the buyer; and the property is the person’s own personal property, or the property is the personal property of another (sold without compensation).

  • Oil and gas drilling on state land

Requires a state agency to lease agency-owned oil and gas resources “in good faith” until new rules for nominating the development of resources are adopted by the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission.  The leasing party must demonstrate insurance and financial assurance and register with ODNR.

  • Towing authorizations for conservancy districts

 Authorizes a conservancy district police department to order the towing and storage of
a motor vehicle when the vehicle is an abandoned junk vehicle and when left on private or public property for a specified time.

Tax amnesty and appropriations – H.B. 66

H.B. 66 sets up the possibility of a tax amnesty program in 2023 and allocates $6 billion in one-time appropriations of COVID relief funds. And Medicaid draw down funds.

  • Tax amnesty

Allows a two-month tax amnesty program in 2023 for delinquent state taxes, local sales and use taxes, income tax withholding and more, but only if additional revenues from amnesty will be needed to meet General Revenue Fund obligations.

  • Ag-related appropriations

$4.5 million to Ohio Department of Agriculture for grants to county agricultural societies.

$250 million to Ohio Dept. of Development for water quality grants program.

Millions to Ohio Department of Natural Resources for state and local parks, and improvement, recreation, and conservation projects.

What proposals didn’t pass?

Since we’re at the end of the two-year session of the 134th General Assembly, any proposed legislation that did not pass is now dead.  Some of those proposals will be reintroduced next session, but we might never see others again.  The two most notable ag-related bills that died include:

Many solar developers were hoping this bill would pass, as it provides incentives for smaller scale subscription-based solar projects and solar projects on brownfield sites.  Landowners considering leases with solar developers who stated they were doing community solar projects must note that, because the bill did not pass, there is currently no legal authority to construct a community solar project in Ohio.

This proposal would have streamlined the process for landowners challenging compensation for property taken by eminent domain, increased the burden of proof by an agency using eminent domain, and expanded attorney fee and expense rewards for property owners.  It would also prohibit takings of property for recreational trails, an issue that has plagued northeast Ohio.  Sponsors say they will reintroduce next session.

What packages will the new year bring?

We’ll be keeping an eye on the new General Assembly, which will likely include new committee members and leadership on both the House Agriculture and Conservation and Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.  Our quick wish list for next session starts with:

  • Revisions to the agricultural and agritourism exemptions in county and township zoning law.
  • Mowing date and procedural revisions to the noxious weeds law
  • Updates and clarifications to the partition fence law
  • Streamlining and clarification of home-based and farm-raised food licenses

Follow the Ohio legislature at https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/.

 

Posted In: Food, Renewable Energy, Zoning
Tags: legislation
Comments: 0
Map of portion of Birch Solar 1 project at OPSB
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, October 28th, 2022

Highlighting a continuing trend in opposition to solar energy development across the state, the Ohio Power Siting Board has for the first time denied the application of a large-scale solar energy project.  After a string of 34 OPSB-approved projects since 2018, the Birch Solar 1 project became the board's first denial when the OPSB determined the project would not serve the public interest.  

The proposed project.  The Birch Solar application proposed a 300 MW facility in Allen and Auglaize counties with solar panels on 1,410 acres and a total project area of 2,345 acres.  Of the total, 2,132 acres are currently in agricultural use. The project would also include 22.5 miles of gravel access roads, an operations and maintenance building, underground and aboveground electric collection lines, meteorological towers, weather stations, inverters and transformers, a collector substation, a point of interconnection switchyard, and a 345-kilovolt generation interconnection electric transmission line. A six-foot cedar post perimeter fence would secure the project, evergreen fencing would limit impacts to neighboring viewsheds, and solar panels would be setback a minimum of 300 feet from adjacent non-participating residences and roadways.

OPSB’s review.  The OPSB had the duty of reviewing the project application to determine whether it satisfied the legal criteria in Ohio Revised Code 4906.10(A) for siting a major utility in Ohio.  For a solar project, the criteria includes parts (A)(2) through (8):

  1. The nature of the probable environmental impact;
  2. That the facility represents the minimum adverse environmental impact, considering the state of available technology and the nature and economics of the various alternatives, and other pertinent considerations;
  3. That the facility is consistent with regional plans for expansion of the electric power grid of the electric systems serving this state and interconnected utility systems and that the facility will serve the interests of electric system economy and reliability;
  4. That the facility will comply with Chapters 3704., 3734., and 6111. of the Revised Code and all rules and standards adopted under those chapters and under section 4561.32 of the Revised Code;
  5. That the facility will serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity;
  6. What its impact will be on the viability as agricultural land of any land in an existing agricultural district established under Chapter 929. of the Revised Code that is located within the site and alternative site;
  7. That the facility incorporates maximum feasible water conservation practices as determined by the board, considering available technology and the nature and economics of the various alternatives.

The “public interest” factor and public opposition.  OPSB focused most of its analysis of the Birch Solar application on part (A)(6), that the facility “will serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” The board explained that the question of whether an application serves the public interest “must be examined through a broad lens and in consideration of impacts, local and otherwise, from the Project.”  The OPSB acknowledged that there can be potential public benefits to a proposed solar facility such as energy generation, economic benefits from employment and tax revenues, air quality and climate improvements, protecting landowner rights, and preserving agricultural land use.  But the board stated that it must weigh a project’s benefits against its impacts, especially impacts to those living near it.  To do so, the board reviewed the application, evidence, and comments on Birch Solar and identified a primary concern:  uniform and consistent public opposition to the project. 

The two counties and four townships where Birch Solar would locate all opposed the project.  Acting under new legal authority granted by Ohio’s legislature last year, Auglaize County has restricted large-scale solar development in all incorporated parts of the county and Allen County has established most of the county as restricted from solar development.  The Birch Solar application is unaffected by the designations since it was in process and grandfathered in before the new law, but OPSB noted that had the new law been in place, the county restrictions would have prohibited the project. 

OPSB also reviewed evidence submitted by Allen County officials stating that there would be 1,278 residences, four schools, and six churches within one mile of Birch Solar’s project area, and that the residents shared concerns about the project’s lack of dedicated local power; its impact on land use, property values, drinking water, groundwater, drainage, and roadways; its decommissioning plan; and negotiations on distributing “payment in lieu of taxes” revenue to local governments.

Of the hundreds of public comments submitted on the Birch Solar application, OPSB determined that approximately 80% of the comments were in opposition to the project and that opposition reasons were similar to those raised by the local governments.  Birch Solar argued that it had agreed to 40 stipulated conditions that would address opposition concerns and had offered to make “good neighbor” payments of $10--$50,000 and property value adjustments to adjacent landowners.  Even so, the OPSB concluded that Birch Solar would not serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity requirement because of “unanimous and consistent opposition to the Project by the government entities whose constituents are impacted by the Project.”

What’s next?  The battle may not be over.  Birch Solar has the right to request a rehearing and reconsideration of its application within 30 days of the OPSB decision.  For now, the board’s denial of the project might invigorate opposition groups that have formed in areas where projects are proposed.  But note that on the same day OPSB denied Birch Solar, it approved Pleasant Prairie Solar in Franklin County, a 250 MW facility with a 2,400 acre project area and Harvey Solar, a 350 MW project of 2,630 acres in Licking County.   And 15 more projects totaling 3,266 MW are currently pending before the OPSB.  Whether local opposition will prohibit any of those projects is an issue we’ll be watching.

Read more about the Birch Solar project in the OPSB case docket at https://opsb.ohio.gov/cases/20-1605-el-bgn.

Solar panels iand corn growing in a field in Ohio
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, August 31st, 2022

Solar and wind energy development is thriving in Ohio, and most of that development will occur on leased farmland.  Programs in the newly enacted federal Inflation Reduction Act might amplify renewable energy development even more.  The decision to lease land for wind and solar development is an important one for a farmland owner, and one that remains with a farm for decades.  It’s also a very controversial issue in Ohio today, with farmers and community residents lining up on both sides of the controversy.  For these reasons, when a landowner receives a “letter of intent” for wind or solar energy development, we recommend taking a careful course of action.  Here are a few considerations that might help.

Purpose and legal effect of a letter of intent.  Typically, a letter of intent for renewable energy development purposes is not a binding contract, but it might be.  The purposes of the letter of intent are usually to provide initial information about a potential solar lease and confirm a landowner’s interest in discussing the possibility of a solar lease.  Unless there is compensation or a similar benefit provided to the landowner and the letter states that it’s a binding contract, signing a letter of intent wouldn’t have the legal effect of committing the landowner to a solar lease.  But the actual language in the letter of intent would determine its legal effect, and it is possible that the letter would offer a payment and contain terms that bind a landowner to a leasing situation.

Attorney review is critical.  To ensure a clear understanding of the legal effect and terms of the letter of intent, a landowner should review the letter with an attorney.  An attorney can explain the significance of terms in the letter, which might include an “exclusivity” provision preventing the landowner from negotiating with any other solar developer for a certain period of time, “confidentiality” terms that prohibit a landowner from sharing information about the letter with anyone other than professional advisors, “assignment” terms that allow the other party to assign the rights to another company, and initial details about the proposed project and lease such as location, timeline, and payments.  Working through the letter with an attorney won’t require a great deal of time or cost but will remove uncertainties about the legal effect and terms of the letter of intent.

Negotiating an Option and Lease would be the next steps. If a landowner signs a letter of intent, the next steps will be to negotiate an Option and a Lease.  It’s typical for a letter of intent to summarize the major terms the developer intends to include in the Option and Lease, which can provide a helpful “heads up” on location, payments and length of the lease.  As with the letter of intent, including an attorney in the review and negotiation of the Option and Lease is a necessary practice for a landowner.  We also recommend a full consideration of other issues at this point, such as the effect on the farmland, farm business, family, taxes, estate plans, other legal interests, and neighbor relations. Read more in our “Farmland Owner’s Guide to Solar Leasing” and “Farmland Owner’s Solar Leasing Checklist”.

New laws in Ohio might prohibit the development.  A new law effective in October of 2021 gives counties in Ohio new powers to restrict or reject wind and solar facilities that are 50 MW or more in size.  A county can designate “restricted areas” where large-scale developments cannot locate and can reject a specific project when it’s presented to the county. The new law also allows citizens to organize a referendum on a restricted area designation and submit the designation to a public vote. Smaller facilities under 5-MW are not subject to the new law.  Several counties have acted on their new authorities under the law in response to community concerns and opposition to wind and solar facilities.  Community opposition and whether a county has or will prohibit large-scale wind and solar development are additional factors landowners should make when considering a letter of intent.  Learn more about these new laws in our Energy Law Library.

It's okay to slow it down.  A common reaction to receiving a letter of intent is that the landowner must act quickly or could lose the opportunity.  Or perhaps the document itself states a deadline for responding.  A landowner shouldn’t let those fears prevent a thorough assessment of the letter of intent.  If an attorney can’t meet until after the deadline, for example, a landowner should consider contacting the development and advising that the letter is under review but meeting the deadline isn’t possible.  That’s a much preferred course of action to signing the letter without a review just to meet an actual or perceived deadline.

For more information about energy leases in Ohio, refer to our Energy Law Library on the Farm Office website at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/our-library/energy-law.

A group of ferrets laying next to each other.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Thursday, December 30th, 2021

Did you know that a group of ferrets is called a business?  Ironically, we are in the business of ferreting out agricultural and resource law issues and providing you updates.  This edition of the Ag Law Harvest provides an update on recent court decisions from across the country that deal with the right to farm, food labeling, and conditional use permits for solar gardens. 

Right to Farm Act upheld in North Carolina.  Earlier this month, a three-judge panel on the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of North Carolina’s right to farm law.  In 1979, the North Carolina legislature enacted the Right to Farm Act (the “Act”).  In 2017 and 2018 the North Carolina legislature amended the Act by passing House Bill 467 and Senate Bill 711 (collectively referred to as “the Amendments”).  The Amendments sought to clarify and strengthen North Carolina’s right to farm law. The Plaintiffs argued that the Amendments violated North Carolina’s equivalent of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause and that the Act exceeded the scope of North Carolina’s police power.  The Court of Appeals disagreed.  The Court recognized North Carolina’s interest in promoting and preserving agriculture and that North Carolina has the authority to regulate such an interest. The Court found that the Act’s limitation on potential nuisance claims against those engaged in agriculture, forestry, and other related operations helps to protect North Carolina’s interest, and encourages North Carolina’s goal to encourage the availability and continued “production of food, fiber, and other products.”   The Plaintiffs also argued that the Amendments were “private laws” to specifically protect the swine industry in violation of North Carolina’s Constitution.  The Court found, however, that the Act and the Amendments are laws of general applicability that apply to all agricultural and forestry operations, not just swine producers.  Lastly, the Plaintiffs argued that because the language in House Bill 467 limited the amount of compensation that can be recovered in a nuisance action against agricultural and forestry operations, the Plaintiffs’ right to a trial by jury had been impaired and/or abolished.  The Court ruled, however, that North Carolina has the authority to “define the circumstances under which a remedy is legally cognizable and those under which it is not.”  The Court found that there are many examples where compensation and remedies are limited within North Carolina law and that House Bill 467 did not “impair nor abolish the right to a jury trial.” 

Where is the cacao?  A California man (“Plaintiff”) is suing Costco Wholesale Corporation (“Costco”) for allegedly mislabeling Costco’s “Chocolate Almond Dipped Vanilla Ice Cream Bars” (the “Product”).  Plaintiff argues that because of the Product’s packaging and name, he expected the Product’s chocolate would have been predominately derived from cacao beans.  Plaintiff asserts that chocolate is defined by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) and California law “as prepared from ground roasted cacao bean” and that it must be “made chiefly from cacao beans with a small amount of optional ingredients.”  Based on this definition, Plaintiff claims that Costco’s packaging is misleading because the Product’s chocolate contains mostly vegetable oils and small amounts of ingredients derived from cacao beans.  In his Complaint, Plaintiff argues that federal regulations require Costco to label the Product as “milk chocolate and vegetable oil coating” rather than just “chocolate.”  However, the court found that neither of Plaintiff’s cited regulations support a viable theory of liability against Costco.  First, the court could not find Plaintiff’s definition of chocolate anywhere in the Code of Federal Regulations.  Secondly, the court held that there are no federal regulations that require a certain amount of cacao bean ingredients as opposed to vegetable oils to be used in “chocolate” and that there is no language mandating the labeling of Costco’s Product as “milk chocolate and vegetable oil coating almond dipped ice cream bars.” The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s claim that Costco engaged in consumer deception with its Product’s label.  The court found that a reasonable consumer would not have been deceived by the Product’s label and that if there were any questions about the ingredients of the Product, a consumer could have resolved those questions by looking for the ingredients list on the back of the Product’s packaging. 

Conditional use permits at the center of the Minnesota’s “solar system.”  Move over Sun because conditional use permits are at the center of attention in Minnesota, for now.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals has recently ruled against a county’s decision to deny two conditional use permits to build solar gardens in McLeod County, Minnesota.  Two subsidiary companies of Nokomis Energy LLC (“Plaintiff”) each applied for a conditional use permit (“CUP”) to build separate, one-megawatt solar energy facilities.  McLeod County considered the two CUP applications at public hearings.  Two neighboring landowners expressed concerns about stray voltage and the number of fetal deaths among their livestock.  The landowners claimed that the number of fetal deaths increased after other solar facilities were constructed nearby.  Plaintiff did not deny that solar gardens can produce stray voltage but proposed to alleviate those concerns by hiring only licensed professionals and to allow third-party oversight during construction.  Plaintiff also offered to conduct stray voltage testing before and after construction and indicated that it would accept any conditions set forth by county officials.  The county, however, denied both applications on the basis that the proposed sites are “prime farmland” and because the stray voltage would negatively affect livestock.  The court rejected the county’s assessment.  First, the court held that preserving prime farmland is not a sufficient legal basis for denying a CUP.  Second, the court ruled that the county cannot deny a CUP without first considering whether any proposed conditions would eliminate any concerns about the application.  Here, the court found that McLeod County’s failure to address Plaintiff’s proposals to eliminate the stray voltage concerns amounts to an unjust denial of Plaintiff’s CUPs.    

 

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year! 

Peregrine Falcon flying straight at camera.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, October 15th, 2021

Did you know that the fastest animal in the world is the Peregrine Falcon?  This speedy raptor has been clocked going 242 mph when diving.

Like the Peregrine Falcon, this week’s Ag Law Harvest dives into supply chain solutions, new laws to help reduce a state’s carbon footprint, and federal and state case law demonstrating how important it is to be clear when drafting legislation and/or documents, because any ounce of ambiguity could lead to a dispute.      

Reinforcing the links in the supply chain.  President Joe Biden announced that ports, dockworkers, railroads, trucking companies, labor unions, and retailers are all coming together and have agreed to do their part to help reduce the supply chain disruption that has left over 70 cargo ships floating out at sea with nowhere to go.  In his announcement, President Biden disclosed that the Port of Los Angeles, the largest shipping port in the United States, has committed to expanding its hours so that it can operate 24/7; labor unions have announced that its workers have agreed to work the additional hours; large companies like Walmart, UPS, FedEx, Samsung, Home Depot and Target have all agreed to expand their hours to help move product across the country.  According to the White House, this expanded effort will help deliver an extra 3,500 shipping containers per week.  Port and manufacturing disruptions have plagued retailers and consumers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Farming equipment and parts to repair farming equipment are increasingly in short supply.  The White House hopes that through these agreements, retailers and consumers can finally start to see some relief.  

California breaking up with gas powered lawn equipment.  California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a new bill into law that would phase out the use of gas-powered lawn equipment in California.  Assembly Bill 1346 requires that new small off-road engines (“SOREs”), used primarily in lawn and garden equipment, be zero-emission by 2024.  The California legislation seeks to regulate the emissions from SOREs which have not been as regulated as the emissions from other engines.  According to the legislation, “one hour of operation of a commercial leaf blower can emit as much [reactive organic gases] plus [oxides of nitrogen] as driving 1,100 miles in a new passenger vehicle.”  The new law requires the State Air Resources Board to adopt cost-effective and technologically feasible regulations to prohibit engine exhaust and emissions from new SOREs.  Assembly Bill 1346 is a piece of the puzzle to help California achieve zero-emissions from off-road equipment by 2035, as ordered by Governor Newsome in Executive Order N-79-20

U.S. Supreme Court asked to review E15 Vacatur.  A biofuel advocacy group, Growth Energy, filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal court’s decision to abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) rule allowing for the year-round sale of fuel blends containing gasoline and 15% ethanol (“E15”).  Growth Energy argues that the ethanol waiver under the Clean Air Act for the sale of ethanol blend gasoline applies to E15, the same as it does for gas that contains 10% ethanol (“E10”).  Growth Energy also claims that limiting the ethanol waiver to E10 gasolines contradicts Congress’s intent for enacting the ethanol waiver because E15 better achieves the economic and environmental goals that Congress had in mind when it drafted the ethanol waiver.  Growth Energy asks the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s decision and instead interpret the ethanol waiver as setting a floor, not a maximum, for fuel blends containing ethanol that can qualify for the ethanol waiver.  Growth Energy now awaits the Supreme Court’s decision on whether or not it will take up the case. Visit our recent blog post for more background information on E15 and the waivers at issue.  

When in doubt, trust the trust.  A farm family in Preble County may finally be able to find some closure after the 12th District Court of Appeals affirmed the Preble County Court of Common Pleas’ decision to prevent a co-trustee from selling farm property.  Dorothy Wisehart (“Dorothy”), the matriarch of the Wisehart family established the Dorothy R. Wisehart Trust (the “Trust”) in which she conveyed a one-half interest in two separate farm properties, both located within Preble County to the Trust.  Dorothy retained her one-half interest in the two farms which passed to her son, Arthur, upon her death.  Furthermore, upon Dorothy’s death, the Trust became an irrevocable trust with Arthur as the sole trustee.  The Trust had five income beneficiaries – Arthur’s wife and four kids.  The Trust specifically allowed for removal and replacement of the trustee upon the written request of 75% of the income beneficiaries.  In 2010, four of the five income beneficiaries executed a document removing Arthur as the sole trustee and instead placed Arthur and Dodson, Arthur’s son and one of the income beneficiaries, as co-trustees.  Arthur, however, argued that only Dorothy had the power to remove and appoint a new trustee and once Dorothy passed, no new trustee could be appointed.  In 2015, Dodson filed suit against his father after Arthur allegedly tried to sell the two farms and further alleged that Arthur breached his fiduciary duty by withholding funds from the Trust.  Dodson also asked the court to determine the issue of whether Dodson was validly appointed as co-trustee.  The common pleas court sided with Dodson and found that (1) the Trust held an undivided one-half interest in the farms, (2) Dodson was validly appointed as co-trustee, and (3) Arthur wrongfully withheld funds from the Trust, breaching his fiduciary duty as a trustee.  Arthur appealed, arguing that the case was not “justiciable” because the harms alleged by Dodson were hypothetical and no real harm occurred.  However, the 12th District Court of Appeals disagreed with Arthur.  The court found that the Trust expressly provided for the removal and appointment of trustees by 75% of the income beneficiaries.  Further, the court ruled that this case was justiciable because Dodson’s allegations needed to be resolved by the courts or else real harm would have occurred to the income beneficiaries of the Trust.  This case highlights perfectly the importance of having well drafted estate planning documents to help clear up any disputes that may arise once you’re gone.  

No need to cut the “GRAS” today.  Consumer advocates, Center for Food Safety (“CFS”) and Environmental Defense Fund (“EDF”), brought suit against the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) asking the court to overturn the FDA’s rule regarding “Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (the “GRAS Rule”).  According to the plaintiffs, the GRAS Rule subdelegated the FDA’s duty to ensure food safety in violation of the United States Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”).  In 1958, Congress enacted the Food Additives Amendment to the FDCA which mandates that any food additive must be approved by the FDA.  However, the definition of “food additive” does not include those substances that are generally recognized as safe.  Things like vinegar, vegetable oil, baking powder and many other spices and flavors are generally recognized as safe to use in food and not considered to be a food additive.  Under the GRAS Rule, anyone may voluntarily, but is not required to, notify the FDA of their view that a substance is a GRAS substance.  There are specific guidelines and information that must be presented to back up a manufacturer’s claim that a substance is GRAS.  In any case, the FDA retains the authority to issue warnings to manufacturers and to stop distribution when the FDA believes that a substance is not a GRAS substance.  Plaintiffs claim that under the GRAS Rule, the FDA is subdelegating its duty by allowing manufacturers to voluntarily notify the FDA of a GRAS substance rather than requiring it.  However, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York found that the FDA did not subdelegate its duties because the FDCA does not require the FDA provide prior authorization that a substance is GRAS.  Further, the court held that the FDA has done nothing more than implement a process by which manufacturers can notify the FDA of GRAS determinations and the FDA can choose to agree or disagree.  The court reasoned that even if a mandatory GRAS notification procedure or prior approval process were in place, manufacturers could simply lie about what’s in their products and the FDA would be none the wiser.  The court also noted that mandatory submissions would consume the FDA’s resources which would be better spent evaluating higher priority substances.  The court ultimately concluded that the FDA’s GRAS Rule does not highlight a constitutional issue, nor does it violate the FDCA or APA.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

Large-scale wind and solar energy development has generated both opportunity and conflict across Ohio in recent years.  For several months, we monitored the progress of Senate Bill 52, a proposal intended to address community and landowner concerns about wind and solar facilities.  This past Monday marked the effective date for Senate Bill 52, passed by the Ohio Legislature in June, and we've been busy developing new resources to help explain the laws that are now effective. 

The legislation expands local involvement in the siting and approval of large-scale wind and solar facilities in several ways:

  • County commissioners may designate “restricted areas” where such facilities may not locate.
  • County citizens may petition for a referendum to approve or reject restricted area designations.
  • Developers must hold a public meeting overviewing a proposed facility in the county where it would locate.
  • County commissioners may prohibit or limit a proposed wind or solar facility after learning of it at the public meeting.
  • County and township representatives must sit on the Ohio Power Siting Board committee that reviews facility applications.

The new laws also require wind and solar developers to submit decommissioning plans and performance bonds to address removal of a facility at the end of its lifetime. 

Our two law bulletins and video series on Senate Bill 52 are now available.  The resources work through each part of Senate Bill 52 and explain which types of facilities will be subject to the laws.  You'll find the new resources in our energy law library on the Farm Office website at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/our-library/energy-law.

Farm Office team of David Marrison, Dianne Shoemaker, Peggy Kirk Hall and Barry Ward at OSU's Farm Science Review 2021.
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, September 24th, 2021

As it often goes with farming, the weather interfered a bit with Farm Science Review this year.  We missed seeing farmers and students from across the state gather for the show on Wednesday.  But even wind and rain didn’t stop our Farm Office team, above, from presenting Farm Office Live from the Review on Thursday.   I gave an update on Ohio legislation, as Ohio’s legislature is back from its summer break.   Here’s a summary of the legislation I discussed at our Farm Science Review program.

Bills passed and soon effective

S.B. 52 – Solar and wind facilities.  S.B. 52 passed several months ago and will be effective on October 11, 2021.  The new law will allow counties to designate “restricted areas” in a county where wind and solar projects may not locate and creates a county referendum process for a public vote on restricted area designation.  The law will also require developers to hold a public meeting in the county where a facility is proposed at least 90 days before applying for project approval with the Ohio Power Siting Board.  After the meeting, the county commissioner may choose to prohibit or limit the proposed project.  Another provision of the new law appoints 2 local officials from the proposed location to serve on the OPSB board that reviews a project.  And importantly for landowners, the new law requires a developer to submit a decommissioning plan to OPSB for approval with the application and to post and regularly update a performance bond for the amount of decommissioning costs.  Watch for our new law bulletins on S.B. 52, which we’ll publish soon.

Bills on the move

H.B. 30 – Slow-moving vehicles.  The bill passed the House on June 23, 2021, and just received its second hearing before the Senate Transportation on September 22, 2021.  It proposes revisions to marking and lighting requirements for animal-drawn vehicles to make the vehicles more visible and reduce roadway accidents.

H.B. 95 – Beginning farmers.   We’ve been hoping this bill aiding beginning farmers would continue to receive attention.  It would allow individuals to be certified as beginning farmers and create income tax credits for owners who sell land and agricultural assets to certified beginning farmers and for beginning farmers who attend approved financial management programs.  The bill passed the House on June 28, 2021 and was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee on September 8, 2021.

S.B. 47 – Overtime payThe Senate passed S.B. 47 on September 22, soon after returning from break.  It would exempt an employer from paying overtime wages for certain activities, including traveling to the workplace, actions before or after beginning principal work activities, or “de minimus” acts requiring insignificant time.  The bill sponsors state that it will bring necessary clarity to overtime pay in the era of more employees working unsupervised from home.

Bills newly introduced

H.B. 397 – Termination of Agricultural LeaseA bill that aims to bring certainty to farmland leases was introduced in the House on August 24, 2021 and referred to the Agriculture and Conservation Committee.  The proposal states that where a farm lease agreement does not provide for a termination date or a method for giving notice of termination, a landlord who wants to terminate that agreement must do so in writing by September 1.   Unless otherwise agreed in writing, the termination date would be either the date harvest or removal of the crops is complete or December 31, whichever is earlier.

H.B. 385 – Municipal waste discharges to Lake Erie western basin  Municipalities would be prohibited from discharging waste from treatment plants into Lake Erie under a new bill proposed by Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton).  The bill would require the Ohio EPA to revoke all existing NPDES permits for municipal treatment works or sewerage systems to in the western basin and prohibit any additional permits for that purpose.  It would also fine municipalities up to $250,000 per day for knowingly discharging waste into Lake Erie on the first offense and $1,000 per day for subsequent offenses, or to fine $100 million if the discharge amount exceeds 100 million gallons in a 12-month period. Introduced on August 6, 2021, the bill has been referred to the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee.

Catch a replay Farm Office Live from Farm Science Review at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/farmofficelive.  Register at that site to join us for the next Farm Office Live on October 13 at 7 p.m. or a repeat on October 15 at 10 a.m., whern the Farm Office team will digest the latest news and information on agricultural law and farm management issues that affect Ohio’s farm offices.

Ohio capitol building
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Following a flurry of activity before its break, the Ohio General Assembly can now enjoy a few lazy days of summer.  While the legislature spent much of its energy passing the state budget, it also moved several bills affecting agriculture.  Here’s the latest update on legislation that's moving down at the capitol.

Enacted bills

Solar and wind facilities.  We wrote earlier about S.B. 52, the wind and solar facility siting bill the legislature passed in late June.  Despite pressure to veto the bill, Governor DeWine signed the legislation on July 12; its effective date is October 9, 2021.  The new law requires developers to hold a public meeting in a community at least 90 days prior to applying for project approval, allows counties to designate restricted areas where wind and solar projects may not locate, sets up a referendum process for county residents to have a voice in restricted area designations, adds two community officials to the project review process at the Power Siting Board, and establishes rules for decommissioning of projects, including performance bonds.

Natural gas services.  While communities will have a say in siting wind and solar facilities after S.B. 52’s passage, the opposite will be true for natural gas services.  H.B. 201 guarantees that persons have a right to obtain natural gas and propane services, subject to municipal home rule authority and regulatory oversight.  The bill prohibits political subdivisions from limiting or preventing gas and propane services within its boundaries.  Governor DeWine signed the bill on July 1 and it becomes effective on September 28, 2021.

State budget.  It took a good while, but the governor signed the state budget bill, H.B. 110, on June 30 and it took effect on July 1.  Highlights of agricultural provisions in the bill include:

  • H2Ohio.  Requires state agencies that prepare the already mandated annual report on the H2Ohio fund to present the report to the Senate and House finance committees each year.  ORC 126.60(D).
  • Ohio Proud.  Allows the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to sell merchandise that promotes the Ohio Proud program, and to use proceeds for the Ohio proud, international, and domestic market development fund.  ORC 901.171(B) and (C).
  • Liming inspections.  Allows the ODA director to enter into agreements with private parties for the inspection, sampling, and analysis of liming material and allows those parties to enter onto private and public land for inspections.  ORC 905.59.
  • OSU Extension.  Establishes a farm production, policy, and financial management institute in OSU Extension to address the integration of farm production practices, agricultural marketing, farm policy, and financial management challenges for farm owners and managers, lending agencies, ag teachers, and OSU professionals and provides the institute $250,000 each year for two years. ORC 3335.38.
  • Farmers market inspections.  Removes the option for a farmers market to register and be inspected as a farm market with ODA.  ORC 3717.221(A) and (B).
  • Wine taxes.  Makes the 2 cents per gallon wine tax revenue credited to the Ohio Grape Industries Fund permanent.  R.C. 4301.43.
  • Southern Ohio Agricultural and Community Development Foundation.  At the end of 2021, abolishes the foundation and its board, which was established in 1998 through the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco manufacturers.  Any remaining funds will transfer to the Ohio Proud Marketing Fund. 
  • H2Ohio.  Appropriates $49.3 million each year to the H2Ohio program for 2022 and 2023.
  • Farmland preservation.  Allocates $500,000 for the purchase of agricultural easements in 2022 and 2023.
  • Soil and water phosphorus program.  Allocates $10.7 million in 2022 and 2023 for programs to assist in reducing phosphorus in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
  • SWCDs in Western Lake Erie Basin.  Allocates $3.85 million to support Soil and Water Districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin in complying with former S.B. 1 and assisting with soil testing, nutrient management plan development, manure management technologies, filter strips and water management.

Bills on the move

Beginning farmers.  H.B. 95 finally passed the House on June 28, 2021—it was introduced in February and lagged in the last legislative session.  The proposal allows individuals to be certified as beginning farmers either through USDA or a certification program by ODA, Ohio State or Central State.  Certification criteria includes: farming in Ohio less than 10 years, having a net worth of less than $800,000, providing a majority of labor and management for the farm, demonstrating adequate knowledge of farming, submitting projected earning and profits, demonstrating that farming will be a significant source of income, and participation in an approved financial management program.  The bill would establish two income tax credits, one for owners who sell land and agricultural assets to certified beginning farmers and another for beginning farmers that attend a financial management program.  The bill now requires Senate approval.

Slow-moving vehiclesH.B. 30 had its first hearing before the Senate Transportation committee on June 23.  The proposal passed the House in April.  The bill aims to increase visibility of animal-drawn vehicles by changing marking and lighting requirements.  The vehicles would have to display either an SMV emblem or reflective micro prism tape rather than reflective tape on the rear, a flashing yellow lamp at the top and rear, in addition to current lighting requirements.

Earning statements.  A bill passed by the House on June 16 has been referred to the Senate Small Business and Economic Opportunity Committee.  H.B. 187 would require all employers to provide employee with a written or electronic statement of the employee’s earnings and deductions for each pay period, to include total hours worked and hourly rate, total gross wages, amounts and purposes of addition or deductions from wages, and total net wages.  The bill also establishes a request and violation reporting system for employers who fail to provide the statements. 

New bills

Moratorium on animal feeding facilities.  A bill introduced by two representatives from northwestern Ohio would affect new and expanding animal feeding facilities in the Maumee watershed.  H.B. 349 would not allow the Ohio Department of Agriculture to approve a permit for a new construction or expansion of a “regulated animal feeding facility” if it is in the Maumee watershed and the director of ODA has determined that the spring load of total phosphorus for the Maumee River exceeded 860 metric tons and total dissolved reactive phosphorus exceeded 186 metric tons in the preceding calendar year. Regulated animal feeding facilities are those housing over 250 dairy cattle; 300 beef cattle; 3,000 piglets; 750 hogs; 25,000 egg layers; 37,500 meat chickens; 9,000 egg layers and meat chickens if on liquid manure handling system; 16,500 turkeys; 3,000 sheep and 150 horses.  H.B. 349 was referred to the House Agriculture and Conservation committee on June 16, 2021.

Farm Office Team on Zoom Webinar
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

"Farm Office Live" returns this summer as an opportunity for you to get the latest outlook and updates on ag law, farm management, ag economics, farm business analysis, and other related issues.  Targeted to farmers and agri-business stakeholders, our specialists digest the latest news and issues and present it in an easy-to-understand format.

The live broadcast is presented monthly.  In months where two shows are scheduled, one will be held in the morning and one in the evening.  Each session is recorded and posted on the OSU Extension Farm Office YouTube channel for later viewing.

Current Schedule:

July 23, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  December 17, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am 
August 27, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  January 19, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 
September 23, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  January 21, 2022 10:00 - 11:30 am 
October 13, 2021 7:00 - 8:30 pm  Februrary 16, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 
October 15, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  February 18, 2022 10:00 - 11:30 am 
November 17, 2021 7:00 - 8:30 pm  March 16, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 
November 19, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  March 18, 2022  10:00 - 11:30 am 
December 15, 2021 7:00 - 8:30 pm  April 20, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 

Topics we will discuss in upcoming webinars include:

  • Coronavirus Food Assitance Program (CFAP) 
  • Legislative Proposals and Accompanying Tax Provisions
  • Outlook on Crop Input Costs and Profit Margins 
  • Outlook on Cropland Values and Cash Rents 
  • Tax Issues That May Impact Farm Businesses 
  • Legal Trends
  • Legislative Updates
  • Farm Business Management and Analysis
  • Farm Succession & Estate Planning
 

To register or to view a previous "Farm Office Live," please visit https://go.osu.edu/farmofficelive. You will receive a reminder with your personal link to join each month. 

The Farm Office is a one-stop shop for navigating the legal and economic challenges of agricultural production. For more information visit https://farmoffice.osu.edu or contact Julie Strawser at strawser.35@osu.edu or call 614.292.2433

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Renewable Energy