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State board denies request for re-hearing in wind case

The Ohio Power Siting Board reaffirmed its 2014 decision to extend the first phase of the Buckeye Wind Project Thursday, denying a request from opponents to re-hear the case.

The OPSB voted unanimously last year to approve an extension for the first phase of the wind project in Champaign County until May 2018.

The project’s certificate to begin construction was initially scheduled to expire this spring if the extension was not approved. That would have meant construction of the wind farm would have to begin this year. If not, Everpower, the company in charge of the project, would have had to start the lengthy certification process from the beginning.

But members of Union Neighbors United, made up of residents who oppose the project, sought a re-hearing. They argued the OPSB did not follow proper procedures when approving the extension and that the project’s developers failed to provide adequate evidence that ongoing litigation had prevented construction of the wind farm.

UNU can still appeal Thursday’s decision, but has not yet decided whether to take that step, said Jack Van Kley, an attorney representing UNU in the case. Van Kley said he was not surprised by the OPSB’s ruling.

“The board never decides against the utilities,” Van Kley said. “It’s not a surprise to us that they decided in the utility’s favor once again.”

The project is split into two phases and includes a total of about 100 turbines spread across Champaign County. If built, proponents have said it will provide enough electricity to power as many as 50,000 homes and add about $55 million to the local economy. The second phase was also approved, but is being appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. No court dates have been set in that case.

Project developers have previously said litigation from UNU and other entities has delayed construction on the first phase of the project, which led to the request for an extension.

Developers still believe the project is viable despite the lengthy legal battle, said Jason Dagger, a spokesman for Everpower.

Everpower has also requested some changes to the certificate for the first phase, which would allow the company to change the location of construction yards, relocate four access roads and install some collection lines underground as opposed to overhead.

The board approved those changes, but court documents show that decision is also being appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

“We still remain committed to be able to work out some of the concerns that they have,” Dagger said. “Some of the issues in the amendment are very minor, and we are committed to working out any of those differences.”

Members of UNU have raised several concerns about the project overall, including how close the turbines are sited to area homes, how the wind farm might affect area property values and noise and safety concerns.

The OPSB’s decision to extend the certificate means residents opposed to the wind farm will now have to wait until the process plays out in court, Van Kley said.