URBANA – Justices for the state’s highest court spent about an hour Wednesday sifting through details of a legal dispute over a plan to build more than 50 wind turbines in Champaign County.
The Buckeye Wind Project, approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board last year, would allow New York-based Everpower Wind Holdings to construct 53 turbines throughout the county. However, county officials, as well as Union Neighbors United, a group of residents opposed to the project, filed appeals to the OPSB’s decision.
Justices from the Ohio Supreme Court raised numerous questions about the project, including how much noise the turbines would produce and whether $5,000 set aside for each turbine was adequate to cover the costs of decommissioning once the project ends.
Although they have neither supported or opposed the project, attorneys for the county have argued that although the OPSB required Buckeye to provide $5,000 per turbine for decommissioning, no evidence was presented to show how the OPSB settled on that amount.
Justices also asked whether the noise produced by the turbines would be disruptive to nearby residents. Jack Van Kley, an attorney representing UNU, described noise from the turbines as about as loud as a normal conversation between two people. But he said it is disruptive, and can penetrate walls.
“The important thing about turbine noise in regard to its level is it’s very intrusive,” Van Kley said.
Van Kley argued that to entirely eliminate noise as a concern, the turbines would have to be set at least 1.25 miles from homes of residents not participating in the project.
But Howard Petricoff, an attorney representing Buckeye Wind, said the turbines are only viable in areas with adequate wind, and the standards suggested by UNU would make the project impossible.
“Where in Ohio are you going to make 2½ miles with no one living there?” Petricoff said.
Attorneys representing the project also said while some residents will hear the turbines, it will be softer than the sound of a typical conversation.
Jane Napier, an assistant Champaign County prosecutor, was unable to attend the hearing because she was delayed in traffic. However, Nick Selvaggio, Champaign County prosecutor, said he believed the county’s arguments were addressed during the hearing.
“Fortunately, the county and township position is well-articulated in documents filed with the court,” Selvaggio said. “Today’s hearing would have certainly provided a chance for us to emphasize certain points contained in our briefs, but we are encouraged that the justices addressed our arguments in questions to opposing counsel.”
The Buckeye Wind Project will be one of the earliest large-scale projects in Ohio, and future projects could be affected by the court’s decisions in the case.
Van Kley said it is not clear how long it will take the Supreme Court to reach a decision, but it will likely take several months.
The court has several options, including returning the case to PUCO, affirming the PUCO’s previous decisions, or asking PUCO to change or add specific recommendations to the project.
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