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OPSB extends wind certificate

The Ohio Power Citing Board voted unanimously Monday to approve an extension for the first phase of the Buckeye Wind Project in Champaign County until 2018.

The decision was important for the wind farm because the certificate to build the project was scheduled to expire in March of next year. If the request for an extension was turned down, it would mean construction of the wind farm would have to begin. Or Everpower, the company in charge of the project, would have had to start the lengthy certification process from the beginning.

The project has faced numerous legal challenges which delayed construction, said Jason Dagger, a spokesman for Everpower. The extension was granted until May 28, 2018, and Dagger said he believes that’s plenty of time to get the project up and running.

“We do believe this is a good project and it makes sense from a lot of perspectives,” Dagger said.

Attorneys for Union Neighbors United, a local group of residents opposed to the project, could not be reached for comment Monday. Champaign County prosecutors also could not be reached for comment late Monday.

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.

Opponents have raised several concerns, however, including how close the project is cited to local homes, how it might affect property values, as well as noise and other safety concerns. The OPSB has approved both phases of the project, but the decision to approve the second phase has been appealed and will be reviewed by the Ohio Supreme Court.

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 OPSB approved those changes, but that decision is also being appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, Dagger said.

“With the legal challenges we’ve had, we’ve been unable to build because of those,” Dagger said.

Champaign County officials have argued the OPSB should not have allowed an extension of the project’s first phase. Prosecutors have argued although Everpower wants to build both phases at the same time, the two projects are separate and Everpower should have sought the extension through a process that would have allowed more time for testimony and public comment.

The next step, Dagger said, will be for both sides to make their case before the Ohio Supreme Court regarding the project’s second phase.

Along with the ongoing litigation, two recent state laws have also made it more difficult to move ahead with the project. Ohio HB 483 increased how far a turbine must be from a neighboring property. Ohio SB 310 will freeze Ohio’s renewable energy mandates for two years and create a panel to study whether to change the state’s energy laws.

Without the state mandates, Everpower officials have said it will be more difficult to find a buyer for the electricity provided by the wind farm. However, Dagger said he is still optimistic the project will eventually proceed.

“The major pieces of the project have come together. We still have some outstanding work to be done and this helps solidify that work,” Dagger said of Monday’s decision by the OPSB.

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