URBANA – Developers of the Buckeye Wind Project are trying to determine if construction could begin this year after members of the Ohio Power Siting Board approved changes to portions of the first phase of the project.
This week, members of the Ohio Power Siting Board approved a handful of changes to the certificate for the first phase of the controversial wind farm, which ultimately seeks about 100 turbines in Champaign County.
Jason Dagger, a spokesman for Everpower Renewables, the company in charge of the project, described the changes as relatively minor. They included relocating a substation, relocating four proposed access roads, re-sizing two construction yards and installing some collection lines underground as opposed to overhead.
However, now that those changes have been approved, Dagger said company officials are reviewing possible timelines for the project. Construction could start this year, although no decisions have been made.
“I think we’re trying to weigh that as we work into spring here,” Dagger said.
If construction does begin this year, it would likely not be until fall. The company could also wait to see what happens with the project’s second phase before beginning construction.
Both phases of the project have been approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board, but the second phase is being appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. The turbines would be spread throughout six townships.
Champaign County and members of Union Neighbors United, a group opposed to the project, have both filed arguments with the Ohio Supreme Court, raising concerns about safety and the cost to decommission the project, among other issues.
Dagger said attorneys for Everpower are still drafting their response, which will likely be filed next month. The company is still drafting its request for a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT. If approved, company officials have said those payments would mean about $1.8 million in annual payments to the county, or about $40 million over the life of the project.
Earlier this month, county officials in Van Wert and Paulding Counties received the first PILOT payment from Iberdrola Renewables as part of the separate Blue Creek Wind Project in northern Ohio. In that case, Van Wert County Auditor Nancy Dixon said her county received about $2,070,000, which was split between schools and other taxing entities, including about $230,000 for that county’s general fund.
Those payments are equal to about the next 11 largest taxpayers in Van Wert County combined, said Thad Lichtensteiger, a Van Wert County commissioner.
Officials in Paulding County received about $666,000, based on the number of turbines in that county.
“It’s going to be based a little on taxing jurisdiction, but it should be about the same,” Dagger said comparing the Buckeye project to revenue in Van Wert County.
The biggest beneficiaries were the local school districts, said Lichtensteiger, a former board of education member at the Crestview Local School District. That district will receive about $850,000 in additional revenue, while Lincolnview Local Schools will receive about $400,000.
“That’s a 10 percent increase in their budget,” Lichtensteiger said of Crestview. “That’s pennies from heaven is what that is.”
However, the wind farm would provide much more revenue if it were taxed like a public utility, said Tom Stacy, an opponent who tracks wind projects across the state.
“From my perspective it’s not what you get, it’s what you gave away,” Stacy said.
However, without the PILOT, proponents of the wind farm have repeatedly said it could make the project too expensive to move forward.
Concerns about safety and noise for neighboring homeowners should also be considered first, regardless of potential revenue for the county, said Jack Van Kley, an attorney for UNU who has argued against the project.
“No amount of money is going to compensate people for the loss of comfort in their own homes,” Van Kley said.
Proponents of the wind farm have argued the project had to pass through a lengthy regulatory process before it was approved by state officials to ensure it will not be a safety hazard or an inconvenience to neighbors.
The issue is a difficult one for local government officials, Lichtensteiger said. Describing the debate as essentially a property rights issue, he said residents in Van Wert are often divided about the project. Many residents believe the project provides a valuable and stable source of revenue for the next 20 years, but other residents have raised concerns ranging from the sight of blinking lights on the turbines to fears the project might damage neighboring property values. So far, Lichstensteiger said, there is little evidence that the project is damaging property values, although county officials are keeping an eye on the issue.
Van Wert County officials previously voted to designate the county as an alternative energy zone, which provides incentives for renewable energy firms to encourage growth. But county officials voted to rescind that designation last year amid concerns that it did not give the commissioners enough of a voice in evaluating each individual project that might consider moving into the county.
“It’s a very frustrating thing from a local government perspective,” Lichstensteiger said.