Wind farm opponents, county commissioners in Champaign County seek new hearing

Champaign County Commissioners and local residents are for a new hearing after developers for a wind farm project were granted an extension by the state. Bill Lackey/Staff
Champaign County Commissioners and local residents are for a new hearing after developers for a wind farm project were granted an extension by the state. Bill Lackey/Staff

The Champaign County commissioners, along with a group of residents, are asking the Ohio Power Siting Board for a new hearing after a decision that allowed an extension to begin construction for a controversial wind farm.

Members of the OPSB decided last month to grant an extension to start construction on two separate phases of the project after the wind farm’s developer argued ongoing lawsuits delayed the project for years. If built, the project would install about 50 wind turbines across sections of Champaign County.

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But the commissioners and a group of residents opposed to the project have filed separate requests asking the state board for a new hearing on the case. Residents argued the decision will unlawfully prevent them from having a say in the case, while the county argued the developers didn’t provide an adequate reason to extend construction deadlines for the project.

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The Champaign County project is split into two separate phases called Buckeye Wind and Champaign Wind. If it moves forward, Everpower Wind Holdings, the developer, would build about 50 wind turbines in the county. Everpower had argued the extensions were necessary because years of litigation by opponents had delayed the project.

OPSB board members sided with the Everpower, and also ruled the residents missed a key deadline to voice opposition to the project.

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Documents recently filed with the OPSB show the residents believe the board’s decision was unlawful for several reasons, including new state regulations on how far the wind turbines should be set back from neighboring properties.

In asking for a rehearing, the residents argue the board should have treated the developer’s request to extend the certificate for construction as a new proceeding. In that case, the residents’ petition to intervene would have been filed on time.

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The Champaign County projects were among the earliest approved in the state, before lawmakers imposed tougher requirements for how far turbines in more recent projects should be from neighboring properties. Opponents had also previously argued that by extending the certificate for construction, the two phases of the wind farm should fall under the new, tougher setback requirements.

But attorneys for the opponents argued there was no way for the residents to know they would want to have a voice in that dispute years ago when the project was first proposed and the tougher setbacks didn’t exist.

“The Board, in effect, is requiring proposed intervenors to seek intervention at the outset of a siting proceeding by anticipating future legislative changes (not yet existing) granting them rights to protect newly-recognized interests,” attorneys for the opponents argued.

The project's developers challenged the ability of some of the project's opponents to intervene earlier this year, arguing they live outside the project's footprint and wouldn't be affected by the wind turbines.

County officials also filed for a rehearing Tuesday arguing despite the board’s decision, Everpower’s attorneys provided no proof that litigation was the key issue that delayed construction. The commissioners argued Everpower could have started construction after March 2012 after the developer won an appeal before the Ohio Supreme Court for the first phase of the project.

Instead, the developers sought amendments to their original certificate.

“Recent filings in other Board wind siting cases make plain that this extension request has little, if anything, to do with alleged litigation delays,” attorneys for the commissioners argued. “Instead, it is an attempt to avoid application of recent statutory setback requirements.”

The Springfield News-Sun has provided award-winning coverage of two proposed phases of a wind farm in Champaign County. The paper will continue to update the latest on the proposed project and its impact on area residents.