URBANA – The Ohio Power Siting Board may decide this month whether the second phase of the Buckeye Wind Project will move forward after more than a year of debate and rising tensions between some Champaign County neighbors and the company in charge of the project.
It would include construction of 56 wind turbines across 13,500 acres of land in Champaign County, if siting board members approve the plan. The second phase alone could have an estimated $55 million impact on the region and provide about $20 million in payments to local townships and schools over the life of the project, according to developers.
Combined with an earlier first phase that has already been approved, the plan would could mean a total of more than 100 turbines across the area.
Opponents, including some residents living in the project’s footprint, have questioned the economic benefits and raised concerns that the turbines are too close to homes. The controversial issue has pitted neighbors against each other and led to debates about property values, noise and safety.
The project is the only item listed on the siting board’s May 28 agenda.
The siting board has several options, said Matt Butler, a spokesman. The board can either approve the project as proposed, deny it altogether or require changes to the plan before it can move forward.
Regardless of the decision, an appeal is likely from at least one of the parties involved, said Chris Walker, an attorney representing Union Neighbors United. The group is made up of local residents opposed to the wind project.
“I would say it’s likely that someone’s going to file for a rehearing,” Walker said.
Once the state board members make the initial decision, both sides have the right to file for a rehearing within 30 days. If the parties involved are not satisfied with the result of the rehearing, they also have an additional 60 days to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
During the first phase of the project,the siting board decision was appealed in April 2010, and the board affirmed its original decision in July that year. The case was appealed to the state supreme court, which ultimately decided in March last year that the project’s first phase would be allowed to move forward.
Although a ruling was expected earlier this spring, Jason Dagger, a spokesman for the project, said construction could still begin later this year if the siting board approves the proposal.
Several issues are still pending, including how the project will be taxed. Developers are expected to seek a Payment In Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, if the project moves forward. Under that scenario, Buckeye would make an annual payment to the county between $1.2 and $1.8 million spread between numerous entities, including schools, libraries, townships and other organizations. The payments would be made over the life of the project, or about 20 years.
However, the Champaign County commissioners, who would have to approve PILOT payments, have not taken a stance on the issue. If the PILOT request is not approved, the project would be taxed like a traditional utility, a scenario project developers have previously said would make it difficult for the project to remain competitive.
A dispute is also pending before the siting board over proposed changes to a staging area that would be used to store construction materials at the intersection of U.S. 36 and Three-Mile Road. The city of Urbana has raised concerns that the site is near a sewer line extension to Robert Rothschild Farm. Earlier this year, the city and county reached an agreement with Rothschild Farm to extend the sewer line, allowing the company to move ahead with an expansion that would include hiring 25 new full-time employees.
City officials have complained that Buckeye should not be allowed to move the construction yard to that site, but Dagger said the issue should have no effect on whether the project ultimately moves forward.
Dagger said Buckeye would work with the city and county to ensure the sewer line is not damaged.
Dagger said the company is also continuing to research a handful of potential turbines that could be used for the project, based on the cost and best technology available.
“We feel that we’ve got a good project, and we’re ready to move forward,” Dagger said.