COLUMBUS – Representatives from an intervening party and the Buckeye Wind Farm’s developer spoke about the Ohio Power Siting Board’s (OPSB) decision to reject an application for rehearing.
The board rejected citizen group Union Neighbors United’s (UNU) application for rehearing Thursday, nearly a year after the group filed the application on Sept. 24, 2014.
Jack Van Kley, attorney for UNU, said Thursday that the board’s decision was not surprising.
“We’re not surprised because the board always decides in the favor of the utilities, so that’s not a surprise,” Van Kley said. “It seems that you can’t really get a fair hearing in these proceedings until you get beyond the level of the board and go into the court system, and that’s a fact of life that we’ve come to expect.”
Project developer EverPower originally filed the motion for extension of certificate in July 2014, asking the board to extend the certificate granted in the first phase of the project in March 2010.
This certificate authorized the company to construct the project with development to commence no later than March 22, 2015. When the board approved the extension last August, the certificate date was moved to May 28, 2018 which is the deadline for construction to begin on the second phase of the project.
In its motion for extension of certificate, EverPower cited ongoing litigation as a contributing factor in delaying construction on the project. UNU, Champaign County and multiple townships have intervened against the project in both phases and the project’s amendment phase.
The second phase of the project as well as an amendment to the first phase are being appealed in the state Supreme Court.
EverPower Project Manager Jason Dagger said the litigation has been a huge delay and affected the project in many ways.
“We continue to try to make this an economic benefit and by that we hope to sell power locally to some of the large utilities … as well as some of the technological companies that are looking at Ohio this project is a great fit for them,” Dagger said. “The uncertainty has certainly hindered that ability.”
Between the time UNU filed its application for rehearing and Thursday, Dagger said, the company has continued to conduct survey work, title work and other development work. He added the company would like to be under construction with the project next spring.
“We’ll have to see how that plays out,” Dagger said. “Some of that is out of our control. We continue to develop the project on a daily basis and this is a very good project.”
In response to delays in the project, Van Kley questioned why construction has not started on the first phase of the project.
“The decision today applied only to Buckeye Wind (the first phase of the project), not to Champaign Wind (the second phase of the project),” Van Kley said. “EverPower kept saying during the Champaign Wind hearing that the two projects are separate, that the board should not hear evidence about Buckeye Wind during the hearing on Champaign Wind because they’re two separate projects.
“So if that’s the case, what’s holding up the construction of Buckeye Wind just because there’s an appeal in Champaign Wind? Their very actions really contradict what they said in the hearing that the two projects are separate – if they were truly separate they would have started the construction of Buckeye Wind years ago.”
A point of contention UNU cited in the application for rehearing is the impact and uncertainty the extension creates for property owners.
“EverPower has continued to hold this community hostage with this project hanging over their heads,” Van Kley said. “And by extending the certificate as they did today, they just make the project continue to hang there with no decision as to whether construction is going to start which will impair the decision of property owners in Champaign County as to whether they want to do anything new with their properties. Obviously they’re not going to want to build new facilities knowing that those facilities could become worthless if they put in the wind farm so the longer this project hangs in limbo, the longer the community is going to be held hostage by this project.”
Following Thursday’s action, Van Kley said UNU has to determine if it will appeal the board’s ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Board takes action in 2 other wind cases
In addition to rejecting the application for rehearing, the board took action in two other wind projects.
The board denied an entry on rehearing of its decision to grant a certificate in the Greenwich Windpark, a project that proposes to construct a wind farm in Huron County consisting of up to 25 turbines. The board certified the project on Aug. 25, 2014, and the application for rehearing was filed by Omega Crop Co., LLC, on Sept. 23, 2014.
State Sen. Bill Seitz expressed confusion with board’s entry on rehearing regarding a waiver of turbine setbacks. Seitz is a non-voting legislative board member.
The board’s entry states for any wind turbine that does not comply with the minimum setback requirements stated in the statute, Greenwich Windpark LLC, the project developer, must secure an executed waiver of the minimum setback. The entry further states if the necessary waivers are not obtained, the company shall not build the turbine.
Seitz said the issue Omega raised is that there can be no waiver of a setback unless all property owners throughout the entire parameter of the proposed wind farm sign the waiver of the setback.
“Can somebody clarify whether we are going to require the setbacks to be enforced as written in code unless all – meaning all – of the parameter of the proposed wind farm have agreed to a setback waiver anywhere along the parameter?” Seitz asked.
OPSB chairman Andre T. Porter said the project developer is required to follow setback requirements as established by the general assembly. He added if a turbine does not meet setback requirements and the developer does not acquire the appropriate waivers the turbine can not be placed in locations inconsistent with the statute.
The board also granted an application filed by Black Fork Wind Energy, LLC, in the Black Fork Wind Farm to add two new turbine models to the list of turbine models that are suitable for the wind-powered electric generation facility near Shelby, Ohio in Crawford and Richland counties.
The Black Fork project, which consists of up to 91 wind turbines, was issued a certificate by the board on Jan. 23, 2012, a decision the state Supreme Court upheld in December 2013.
As part of the entry, the board also partially granted motions to intervene to the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Gary J. Biglin, Margaret Rietschlin, Karel A. Davis, John Warrington, and Brett A. Heffner. The board’s entry states the motion to intervene was denied to the extent that the respective parties request intervention for the purpose of addressing matters outside the scope of the case.
Seitz stated the intervenor’s motions were filed a year ago.
“Their concern is they get to intervene on the day in which the case is decided and their concern I think is when did they get a chance to present their point of view,” Seitz said.
Porter said the amendment application is limited to an upgrade in technology and turbine locations will not change causing no new environmental impact.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.