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Court dispute could delay wind project

Ongoing legal disputes, including appeals to Ohio’s Supreme Court, could further delay construction of a proposed wind farm in Champaign County that has already been in the works for several years.

Developers of two phases of the Buckeye Wind Project had previously said they hoped to begin construction as early as this coming spring. But legal disputes over the project could potentially push back construction of the project by as much as a year. Combined, the project’s two phases would build as many as 100 turbines spread throughout about 13,500 acres throughout several townships in Champaign County.

Members of the Ohio Power Siting Board have previously approved the project’s second phase. But members of Union Neighbors United, a group opposed to the project, recently filed a notice of appeal, meaning they will ask the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn the state’s decision. The Champaign County Prosecutor’s Office, along with officials in Urbana, Union and Goshen Twp., have also filed a notice of appeal in the case.

Officials from Everpower Renewables, the company in charge of the project, are reviewing the appeals and looking at their options for construction of the project, said Jason Dagger, a spokesman for the wind farm.

“I think we’re looking at what that means right now and if we can still go this spring,” Dagger said.

The wind company is also seeking to make changes to the first phase of its project, including the location of staging areas during construction and moving an electric collection line system underground, among other changes. However, the City of Urbana has raised concerns that the proposed location of the staging areas could impact a sewer line project connecting to Robert Rothschild Farm. A hearing to discuss a handful of the proposed changes is scheduled for Jan. 6 in Columbus.

“We had hoped to have that decision by the end of the year and that’s not going to happen till early next year,” Dagger said. “That’s caused a little bit of a delay as well.”

It’s more efficient and cost-effective to build both phases together, Dagger said, but it is possible the company could move ahead with construction of the first phase alone.

“Any time you can shorten the construction season and make it more compact it benefits you and the community,” Dagger said.

Champaign County prosecutors listed several concerns in their appeal of the second phase of the project. They include arguments that the state did not allow the county and townships a meaningful chance to cross-examine experts who testified about parts of the project’s application. Prosecutors also raised concerns that the state board should have required the wind company to meet manufacturer’s recommendations for setbacks from homes and property lines.

Attorneys for Everpower have argued the project met state requirements for setbacks and argued the county misinterpreted the recommendations.

The next step is for the OPSB to send a transcript of its hearings to the Ohio Supreme Court, said Jane Napier, assistant Champaign County prosecutor. Each of the parties involved will have a chance to submit more detailed arguments. Attorneys on both sides will also have a chance to argue in person before the Ohio Supreme Court.

The timeline is not yet clear, but Napier said the county could submit briefs this spring, and it could be 2015 before the Supreme Court makes a ruling.

Members of UNU have also filed a notice of appeal in the case as well. Chris Walker, an attorney representing UNU, said it’s hard to determine how long the court battle might last.

Members of UNU raised eight issues in its notice of appeal. Walker said Ohio’s renewable energy portfolio, which was used to demonstrate a need for the project, might violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it creates preferences for in-state generation of renewable energy, which may not be permissible.

UNU also argues the state board failed to establish adequate noise limits for the project, did not require proper setbacks and did not adequately prove the project serves the public interest.

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