Concerns with the safety of the Buckeye Wind Project and the process by which it was approved were among the chief issues raised by opponents before the Ohio Supreme Court.
Champaign County prosecutors and members of Union Neighbors United filed arguments recently with the Ohio Supreme Court, one of the final steps in deciding whether the controversial wind project can move forward. Combined with an earlier first phase, the project could include a total of about 100 turbines spread spread throughout six townships.
Proponents of the project have argued the project is safe and could generate between $1.2 million and $1.8 million annually for the county.
The Ohio Power Siting Board approved the second phase of the project, but county officials and opponents of the project asked the Ohio Supreme Court that the decision be reconsidered.
Officials from Everpower Renewables, the company in charge of the project, will still have an opportunity to state their case to the Ohio Supreme Court.
One of the primary arguments raised by both Champaign County prosecutors and attorneys from UNU is that the siting board did not allow both sides equal opportunity to present evidence during the hearing process. In their brief, Champaign County prosecutors argued Hugh Crowell was allowed to testify as an expert on several aspects of the project, including a transportation study. However, the county argued Crowell was not present when the study was conducted and could not not answer several basic questions about the results.
“The OPSB abused its discretion in concluding that Mr. Crowell was qualified to testify due to his position as there was nothing in the record which supported that he could testify as an expert as to the transportation study,” the county argued.
Members of UNU, a group of residents opposed to the project, also raised concerns about the hearing process in their arguments. Attorneys for UNU argued that during the hearing, they attempted to question a siting board staff member who investigated a separate wind farm in northern Ohio after pieces of the turbine blade came apart from the turbines. But the brief argued the siting board did not allow UNU attorneys to question the staff member, arguing those questions were irrelevant because it involved a separate wind farm and a different model of wind turbine.
“The admission of evidence during the hearing was extremely one-sided in favor of Everpower,” said Jack Van Kley, an attorney for UNU.
Attorneys for Everpower did not return calls for comment Monday, but have argued the approval process was extensive and gave opponents numerous opportunities to present evidence in the case.
County attorneys questioned how far the turbines should be allowed to be sited near property lines and homes. As evidence, they pointed to a safety manual by a manufacturer called Gamesa that argued an area of 1,300 feet should be cleared in case of a fire at one of the turbines. The current setbacks in Champaign County would be 541 feet to a non-participating property line and 919 feet from a residence, according to the brief.
Everpower officials have argued the county misinterpreted the recommendations and argued that the setbacks in the proposal met state requirements.
Other concerns raised by UNU and the county included the cost to decommission the turbines, and how noise produced by the turbines could affect neighboring residents. UNU also challenged Ohio’s renewable energy mandate, which requires electric utilities to provide a portion of power from renewable energy sources, some of which must be generated from facilities in Ohio. UNU argued that requirement discriminates against energy companies outside of Ohio and might violate the U.S. Commerce Clause.
Without the state mandate, UNU argued the wind farm would not serve a public need, part of the basis for its approval by the siting board.
Once Everpower submits its brief in favor of the project, the county and UNU would have the opportunity to respond. All of the entities involved will also have an opportunity to make arguments in person before the Ohio Supreme Court.
Van Kley said he believes those arguments would likely take place later this summer or fall.
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