BUCYRUS – Opponents of the planned Black Fork wind farm in northern Crawford and Richland counties have been fighting the project ever since the first of three developers began acquiring land rights back in 2007.
They have had some success at delaying it, although market forces in the energy sector have had a lot more to do with the fact that there are still no wind turbines sticking up out of the ground between Shelby and Tiro.
Last week, however, opponents of the project lost a battle in their years-long war against the wind turbines.
Black Fork Wind Energy, the legal name for the project now being shepherded by Capital Power, has been granted a two-year extension of its certificate of environmental compatibility and public need from Jan. 23, 2017, to the same date in 2019. The decision was handed down late last week by the Ohio Power Siting Board.
Black Fork had sought the extension for two reasons. It contended that the opponents’ legal actions had kept the project from moving forward. “And also … Black Fork’s ability to proceed with the project has been hampered by recent energy market changes in Ohio,” the OPSB’s decision read.
“Black Fork asserts that together these two factors have undercut Black Fork’s ability to enter into an economic power purchase agreement for the project’s energy and renewable energy credits at a price sufficient to support construction and financing of the project.”
Black Fork said a surge in the supply of natural gas from shale, particularly that originating from eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, as well as decreased demand for electricity, have made landing a power purchase agreement, or PPM, challenging.
The Black Fork wind farm, consisting of turbines about 500 feet tall, would be spread out across 14,800 acres of private land leased from 150 landowners west of Shelby, north of Crestline and almost surrounding the tiny village of Tiro. The project would be laid out like an X, with a substation in the middle.
Capital Power’s Bill Behling, during visits in recent weeks with Crawford and Richland county commissioners, said he’s optimistic that the first turbines will be in the ground later this year.
“We’ve moved forward with people wanting to buy power, which is a big aspect of this. We’ve had strong interest from both utilities and corporations,” Behling said.
Also, if Capital Power can begin construction before this year is over, it will receive a full allotment of federal tax credits. But even if that doesn’t happen, the project managers now have until 2019 to get started, courtesy of the OPSB’s decision.
Fighting the project almost from the beginning have been local residents Gary J. Biglin, Karel A. Davis, Brett A. Heffner, Margaret Rietschlin and John Warrington.
“The financial risk of Black Fork is disproportionately placed upon the lifelong residents of the project area. The greatest investment of the lives of 1,413 residents is subject to noise effects and 604 homes are subject to shadow-flicker effects,” Warrington, who lives on Ohio 96 near Tiro, wrote in one legal objection.
The OPSB’s initial certificate required project managers to commence construction by Jan. 23, 2017. Black Fork has argued that can’t occur until after market conditions improve, allowing project financing to then take place.
Biglin, in arguing against the certificate extension, said that waiting until wind-generated power becomes economically viable in Ohio “is not good cause to limit efficient land use of property for years to come.”
Project managers disagreed, pointing out “that no landowners who actually participate in its project have submitted public comments opposing the company’s request for certificate extension,” the OPSB said in its ruling.
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