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State board OKs Champaign turbines

Senator opposed to plan that citizens’ group vows to challenge.

The Ohio Power Siting Board voted Tuesday to allow the second phase of the multimillion dollar Buckeye Wind Project, despite comments from a state senator who argued he would have rejected it with the evidence presented.

Opponents who live near the proposed project said immediately after the meeting they will ask the siting board to review its decision. If the board reaffirms its decision, the case could be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Project developers said the wind farm could mean as much as $55 million to the local economy and said the decision is a big step that will allow them to move forward.

“We’re excited about bringing tax revenue and jobs to the community,” said Jason Dagger, Buckeye Wind spokesman.

The company would build as many as 52 turbines across several townships in Champaign County. Combined with an earlier phase that has already been approved, the project could mean about 100 turbines one day dotting more than 13,000 acres of privately leased land across Champaign County’s rural landscape.

Members of the siting board allowed 52 of 56 proposed turbines to be built. But Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican and member of the board, said members should have heard more evidence.

Opponents had sought more information about shadow flicker, in which shadows cast by the blades affect residents and homes within a project’s footprint. Seitz said state officials denied opponents that opportunity when hearings about the project took place. Although he is a member of the siting board, Seitz did not have a vote.

“I think it’s important that we look very, very carefully at these wind applications to make sure all relevant evidence is present before the board,” Seitz said.

Members of Union Neighbors United, a group of residents opposed to the project, sought information from turbine manufacturers and developers about shadow flicker, noise complaints and other issues, said Jack Van Kley, an attorney representing UNU. Administrative law judges who heard the case for the state denied their requests during the hearing process, he said.

“How can you trust a board to protect the health of the people living around the wind farms when (the state) is covering up the evidence of the wind farms already in operation?” Van Kley said.

He said the project is set too close to local homes and should not have been approved.

“There should have been 56 turned down instead of just four,” Van Kley said of the turbines.

Dagger said the project had a thorough review before receiving approval from the state. The company plans to invest between $200 and $300 million to make the wind farm a reality. If a proposed tax plan is approved, local entities including schools and townships in Champaign County, could receive as much as $20 million in annual payments over the life of the project.

Developers initially planned to begin construction late this year, but it’s not clear when the project will begin if the siting board’s decision is appealed to the state’s high court, Dagger said.

“We’ll just have to see what that appeal looks like and what that means,” Dagger said.

Developers still have to select a model of turbine that will be used in the project and get approval from the county commissioners for a Payment in Lieu of Taxes.

“We’re eager to advance some of those discussions right now,” Dagger said.

Members of the siting board rejected four turbines that conflicted with setback requirements, but Dagger said developers proposed a few more turbines than needed to give them some flexibility in determining the final sites.

Board members decided the project met the requirements set by the state and would have a positive effect on the county and townships from additional revenue. The project must also abide by 72 conditions that will be monitored and enforced by the board, including shadow flicker, noise and construction damage to roads and agricultural land.

With the approval of the second phase of the Buckeye Wind Project, the siting board has approved certificates for 10 wind farms across the state totaling 639 turbines and 1,302 megawatts of generation capacity.

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