County seeks rehearing in turbine case

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The Champaign County prosecutor and a group of area residents filed separate documents this week asking that the Ohio Power Siting Board reconsider parts or all of its decision approving a wind turbine project in Champaign County.

Earlier this year, members of the siting board approved the second phase of the Buckeye Wind project, allowing as many as 52 turbines to be built across six townships in the county.

Combined with an earlier phase that received an earlier approval, it would mean a total of about 100 turbines lining the county’s rural landscape.

But the request from the Champaign County Prosecutor’s Office raised several questions about the state’s decision, including an argument that the turbines should be placed further from homes.

Turbines must be placed at least 541 feet from a non-participating land owner’s property line under the current agreement, and at least 919 feet from a non-participating house.

The prosecutor’s appeal argued those setbacks don’t go far enough, and that the state should instead use recommendations from turbine manufacturers. The model of turbines Buckeye will use hasn’t been selected, but prosecutors pointed out that one manufacturer recommends clearing an area of about 1,300 feet in the event of a turbine fire.

Officials from the wind company couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but have argued the project follows strict state standards, including making sure it would be safe for residents. Attorneys from Buckeye Wind haven’t filed their response to the request for a rehearing.

Representatives from the wind farm have argued the project’s second phase could mean as much as $55 million to the local economy. It would also create between eight and 10 full-time jobs after construction is complete, and provide enough renewable energy to power as many as 40,000 homes.

In their rehearing request, prosecutors acknowledged that the 1,300 feet distance to a home is meant as a temporary space to clear in an emergency, but pointed out that the setback is meant to ensure the safety of residents.

“It is surprising then, that the OPSB would still allow a setback of 919 feet to occupied, non-participating structures when, in essence, a manufacturer has indicated that such setback is within an unsafe radius of the turbine,” prosecutors argue.

Prosecutors also asked the state to review other portions of the initial decision, including seeking additional assurances that the cost to decommission the project would be covered by the company.

Members of Union Neighbors United, a group opposed to the wind farm, also requested the siting board reconsider its decision. That request raised several issues, ranging from the noise and distance from nearby homes to whether there is a need for the project.

“Furthermore, the significant adverse impacts of this project on the host community of Champaign County far outweigh the public benefit of the project,” the request from UNU states. “Indeed, there is insufficient evidence that this project is even necessary for renewable energy production.”

If members of the siting board reaffirm their decision, opponents could appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

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