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Justices OK wind farm; Urbana-area residents with safety concerns lose high-court vote 4-3  

Credit:  By Alan Johnson, The Columbus Dispatch, www.dispatch.com 7 March 2012 ~~

A mighty wind is blowing through Champaign County, and not everyone is happy about it.

A 4-3 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court yesterday removed a hurdle blocking construction of a $150 million wind farm on 9,000 acres in Champaign County. The ruling validated an Ohio Power Siting Board decision approving the application of Buckeye Wind LLC to erect 70 wind-driven rotary turbines estimated to generate a combined 126 megawatts of electricity.

The court ruled against a group of Urbana-area landowners who appealed because of concerns about safety, property values and aesthetics. They argued that the siting board left important details about how the project would be handled to staff members when it issued a final order in March 2010.

“The board has limited Buckeye’s certificate, adding 70 separate conditions,” Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote in the majority decision. “The board followed statutory requirements in establishing each one … Simply because certain matters are left for further review and possible public comment does not mean they have been improperly delegated to staff.”

Julie Johnson, a former BankOne executive from Columbus who retired to the Urbana area, said the majority of area residents remain “very opposed” to the wind farm. One of the turbine sites abuts her property.

“It is an industrial use being placed in a rural residential community. It has no place here,” Johnson said. “It is not a good combination for protecting property values, safety and protecting wildlife.”

Mike Speerschneider, director of government affairs for EverPower Wind Holdings, the parent company, said, “We have worked very hard to develop this project in a way that respects the community and the siting process. We are proud of the steps we have taken to not just meet, but exceed, the regulatory standards.

“Wind energy represents one of the least impactful forms of energy production available,” he said. “Wind farms use very little water, have a low impact on wildlife and natural resources. There is no need to secure fuel source, and extraction of fuel is unnecessary.”

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Yvette McGee Brown and Terrence O’Donnell voted with the majority. Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Paul E. Pfeifer and Robert R. Cupp dissented.

Stratton dissented, in part, because she said the state board accepted without dispute Buckeye Wind’s argument that a 541-foot setback was sufficient to protect property owners in case one of the 170-foot-long turbine blades came loose and flew through the air.

“The legislature has required the board to settle issues like this up front on a public record, and it specifically guarantees affected citizens the right to participate in the review process and to have their voices heard,” Stratton wrote. “Issues are not to be settled after construction is approved, much less by unaccountable staff members without public scrutiny or judicial review.”

Columbus lawyer Jack A. Van Kley, who represented property owners, said he thinks the dispute “ is far from over. … We will be watching them every step of the way.”

Van Kley said safety is a major concern because the Power Siting Board accepted the company’s recommendation for a 541-foot setback from the turbines to property owners’ homes. He said manufacturers of three wind turbines recommend setbacks of between 984 and 1,640 feet.

On the safety issue, Speerschneider said that the company “recognizes that blade failures do occur,” but that such cases are “extremely rare.” No one has ever been injured in a wind-turbine accident, he said.

Construction on the wind farm could start this fall or early next year, creating 100 jobs, he said. The project will make $20 million in tax payments over its lifetime to the state, the county and townships and school districts.

Source:  By Alan Johnson, The Columbus Dispatch, www.dispatch.com 7 March 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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