Champaign County wind farm to push on after court ruling

A U.S. Appeals Court ruling provided mixed results for a proposed wind farm in Champaign County, but the project’s developers said they believe they can resolve concerns and push it forward.

Everpower Renewables, the company in charge of the project, plans to develop two wind farms in Champaign County that could install more than 100 turbines across several townships.

The Buckeye Wind Farm has divided the community for years.

>>RELATED: Wind rules debated, Champaign residents oppose changing standards

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Proponents have said the second phase of the project alone could add as much as $55 million to the local economy and create eight to 10 permanent jobs after construction wraps up. Both phases would provide renewable energy to more than 50,000 homes a year.

Opponents have said the wind mills will create a safety risk and be too close to homes, as well as endanger bats. The project’s developers also failed to follow proper procedures in the approval process, opponents have contended.

Developers had to acquire a permit that sets conditions to protect the endangered Indiana bat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued that permit in 2013 but opponents appealed.

Union Neighbors United, a group of residents opposed to the wind farm, argued the wildlife service failed to consider other alternatives and followed an incorrect standard to determine developers minimized the effect on the bats.

The court ruled that the federal agency used the correct standard to show Everpower minimized the impact but failed to consider other alternatives that would have led to fewer bats killed.

The wind farm remains viable, Everpower spokesman Jason Dagger said.

“We will be reviewing the ruling in detail, but we are pleased that the court validated our compliance with the Endangered Species Act’s permit issuance criteria,” he said. “Obviously we are disappointed with the conclusion on the (National Environmental Procedures Act) analysis but expect that it can be resolved in due course and do not see this impacting our ability to proceed with the Buckeye Wind Farm.”

Attorneys representing UNU didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday.

The Indiana bat is an endangered species found in about 25 counties in Ohio.

The permit sets a limit of 130 Indiana bats that can be killed or injured throughout the life of the project, or about five bats per year. To mitigate those losses, the permit requires the wind farm to protect and improve about 217 acres near a hibernation area in Preble County.

The wind farm also must operate in a way that’s designed to protect the local bat population, such as varying the blade speeds to minimize the number of bats that collide with the turbines.

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