URBANA – Hearings to determine the fate of a controversial, $55 million wind turbine project began Thursday in Columbus.
The Ohio Power Siting Board is reviewing plans for the Buckeye II wind project in Champaign County as part of its siting process and to determine if any changes are necessary.
The controversial plan could create more than 80 temporary construction jobs and provide as much as $1.26 million in annual taxes to the region’s economy. But the proposal has drawn criticism from many residents that it will create safety hazards and damage property values in Champaign County.
Combined with an additional first phase, the project could construct more than 100 turbines across six townships.
The hearings are expected to continue through the end of the month and include testimony from residents opposed to the plan, government officials and company representatives.
Mike Speerschneider, senior director of permitting and government affairs for Everpower Wind Holdings, the company in charge of the project, testified Thursday on topics ranging from the potential cost for decommissioning the project to how the turbines might be taxed.
Champaign County Prosecutor Nick Selvaggio questioned whether it’s likely the Buckeye II project will remain viable long term, citing issues such as the increased production of natural gas in Ohio and the uncertain market nationally for wind energy.
But Speerschneider said although the market frequently changes, he believes the project will be successful.
“We do continue to see a promising future for wind in Ohio and the U.S.,” Speerschneider said. “Just like anything, there are cycles.”
For the project to be competitive with similar projects in other states, Speerschneider has said the Champaign County commissioners would likely need to approve a payment in lieu of taxes, which would tax the project at a different rate compared to a more traditional utility.
Under the alternative tax plan, Speerschneider estimated the second phase of the wind farm could provide between $840,000 and $1.26 million in annual taxes for the county. As a traditional utility, it would likely pay much higher taxes up front and the tax rate would decrease over the life of the project.
Selvaggio questioned why a company would spend millions of dollars to go through the lengthy siting process, knowing the fate of the project could rest with three county commissioners who could in effect ultimately decide whether the project would move forward. Selvaggio also questioned why Everpower hasn’t applied for the alternative tax program for the first phase of the project yet, knowing commissioners might not approve it for either phase.
The company’s investors were aware of the potential risks when planning for the first phase of the project began as early as 2006, Speerschneider said.
The type of turbine used, the potential generating capacity and other factors have yet to be determined as well, he said, so a full picture of the project isn’t available. It isn’t clear when commissioners might receive an application for the tax program.
“There are a number of risks involved in the development of a project,” Speerschneider said. “That would be one of them.”
Selvaggio also questioned Speerschneider regarding a $5,000 per turbine bond included in the application as part of the decommissioning process. County officials have questioned whether that figure is enough to dismantle each turbine if the project fails, as well as how the company decided on that amount.
The company used a state requirement from the first phase of the project in its application for the second phase, Speerschneider said. He argued no bond is necessary, but said the $5,000 figure from the first phase was an acceptable amount if state officials determined it should be included.
By the numbers:
Buckeye II Wind Project
$840,000 to $1.26 million – Possible annual tax revenue depending on the type of turbine
86 – Possible jobs during construction
7 – Full-time jobs once operational
108 – Total turbines proposed in two phases
The Springfield News-Sun has covered the Buckeye Wind Project since the development of the first phase of the project. The paper will continue to provide the best coverage of the proposal, including digging into both sides of the controversial issue, examining how it might affect residents and businesses and looking at the economic impact if the wind farms.
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