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Champaign County wind firm argues project should proceed

Officials from the Ohio Power Siting Board and Everpower Renewables argued a Champaign County wind project has been extensively reviewed, and that the state’s highest court should allow it to move forward.

The legal arguments filed Tuesday with the Ohio Supreme Court were in response to concerns raised earlier this year by Champaign County prosecutors and members of Union Neighbors United, a group of area residents opposed to the project. The county and UNU have raised concerns ranging from the safety of the project to the process by which the second phase of the wind farm was approved.

Combined with an earlier first phase, the project would install about 100 turbines throughout Champaign County. Developers of the project said it could create more than 100 temporary construction jobs and could generate between $1.2 and $1.8 million in additional revenue for the county.

Officials from Everpower could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

But county officials have raised concerns that the OPSB did not allow both sides of the debate equal opportunity to present evidence, and did not take many of the county’s concerns into account. Members of UNU have raised concerns about the safety of the project, and argued a state renewable energy mandate that helped create demand for the wind farm might violate the U.S. Commerce Clause by discriminating against companies from outside of Ohio.

However, attorneys for the OPSB disagreed that the mandate violated the Commerce Clause, and argued that even without the renewable mandate, the board likely would have approved the project because it serves the public interest by delivering energy to the state’s bulk transmission system.

“The Board specifically stated that the in-state renewable energy requirement merely ‘adds support’ to a finding that the project is in the public interest, convenience and necessity,” the OPSB brief argues.

County prosecutors had also raised concerns that the OPSB allowed company officials from Everpower to testify as experts about the project, although in some cases they could not answer specific questions about information in the initial application.

Attorneys for the OPSB argued the approval process included almost three weeks of hearings and hundreds of pages of testimony from almost three dozen witnesses. For example, county officials had raised concerns that a witness who testified about a transportation study in the application could not explain how much of the information was gathered, and was not directly involved in developing many parts of the study.

But OPSB attorneys argued the transportation study was conducted under his direction, and argued his testimony was appropriate with his job description. The OPSB also argued it has a long-standing practice to allow a company’s officer or an experienced employee to sponsor an application.

But because the experts sometimes were not able to answer questions about the application, the process placed an undue burden on the county to find out whether studies about the project were accurate, said Jane Napier, assistant Champaign County prosecutor.

“I just don’t think we can say ‘That’s how we’ve done it in the past’ is legally sufficient,” Napier said.

In a separate brief, attorneys for Everpower argued many of the issues being debated had already been resolved when the first phase of the project was approved.

“As they did in Buckeye Wind, UNU and the county want this court to revisit the Board’s procedural rulings, reweigh the evidence and remand the matter for further hearing,” Everpower’s brief states. “And like Buckeye Wind, it is difficult to understand what additional hearings might accomplish.”

Attorneys from UNU and Champaign County will have about 20 days to respond to the briefs filed this week, said Jack Van Kley, an attorney for UNU. But UNU might seek an extension for additional time to prepare the reply, he said.

Both sides would then be allowed to make arguments in person before the Ohio Supreme Court.

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