By Nick Walton
COLUMBUS – In addition to approving a motion to extend the certificate in the first phase of the Buckeye Wind project, so that the project must be under construction by May 18, 2018, rather than by March 2015, the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) also took action on two other wind turbine projects Monday.
The board approved a certificate authorizing 6011 Greenwich Windpark LLC, a subsidiary of Windlab Developments USA, to construct the Greenwich Windpark. The project is expected to consist of up to 25 wind turbines with a total project capacity of approximately 60 megawatts in Greenwich Township, Huron County.
The project is subject to 53 conditions.
Before the board approved the certificate, state Sen. Michael Skindell noted that he and state Sen. Bill Seitz had been contacted by representatives of people who could be impacted by the project. Skindell and Seitz, who was not at Monday’s board meeting, are non-voting legislative members of the board.
Skindell said the residents requested to have an additional public hearing within the county. A public hearing was held on May 6.
“When the public hearing was conducted, it was conducted at a time that the farmers were in a narrow window of planting their crops this year and many of the farmers and folks that had interest in the project were just not really attuned or could not make the public hearing located in the county,” Skindell said.
In response to the request, board Chairman Thomas W. Johnson said it was considered and the case is not quite over. Christine Pirik, Deputy Legal Director for the board, said once the board’s decision is issued a motion for reconsideration can be filed within 30 days.
The board also granted a motion to extend the certificate in the Hardin Wind Farm.
According to the board’s website, Hardin Wind Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Invenergy, plans to install up to 300 megawatts of wind generation capacity across 23,000 leased acres in Hardin County. The applicant may construct up to 200 turbines capable of producing up to 1.6 megawatts each.
The board issued a certificate for the project on March 22, 2010, the same date that the certificate was granted in the first phase of the Buckeye Wind project. On Aug. 26, 2013, Hardin Wind filed a motion to extend its certificate for a period of 36 months to March 22, 2018.
The applicant asked the board to extend the certificate, citing market forces beyond its control as the reason for the delay in development.
“Hardin states that suppressed electricity prices undercut Hardin’s ability to enter into a purchase power agreement for the project’s energy and renewable energy credits at a price sufficient to support the financing of the project,” the entry approving the motion states. “Hardin claims that it has worked to adapt to changed market conditions by reconfiguring the project design and upgrading the turbine model of the basis of a combination of availability, design, and price.”
At the conclusion of Monday’s OPSB meeting, Skindell asked if the board staff members had spoken with wind developers to receive feedback on how recent legislation will affect wind projects.
In June, Gov. John Kasich signed legislation freezing the state’s renewable energy standards for two years as a study committee reconsiders the mandates. Kasich also did not veto a midterm budget provision requiring wind turbines to be built further from property lines.
Pirik said that the board’s staff and legal staff are still evaluating the two pieces of legislation and how applicable it is to various projects currently before the board.
“At this time we don’t have any definitive response as far as what does and what doesn’t apply to which projects,” Pirik said. “But certainly there are arguments out there and evaluations going on as we speak.”
Pirik added she was not aware of any project in which the developer was pulling back on the project or not moving forward with it because of the legislation.
Following the legislative action, EverPower Senior Director for Permitting Michael Speerschneider told the Daily Citizen that the two pieces of legislation cast some doubts on the direction that Ohio is moving regarding renewable energy.
EverPower Project Manager Jason Dagger said Monday the legislation will make it extremely challenging for future wind projects in Ohio.
“I think we need to have a good discussion on setbacks,” Dagger said. “I don’t think a real discussion has been had with some of the recent legislation. There’s been projects built on the existing legislation and we haven’t had any issues that I know of, so we change something for no real apparent reason.”
At this point in time, Dagger said he does not believe the legislation will have an impact on the pending projects EverPower is working on in Champaign County.
“I think we’re still trying to grasp (the new legislation) and wrap our arms around that,” Dagger said. “The rules have not been written for that yet, so I think we’re still trying to look at that.”
Regarding the board’s decision to extend Buckeye Wind’s certificate in the first phase of the project from March 2015 to May 28, 2018, Dagger said the motion was pretty standard in nature with no major change to the facility and only extended the length of time to construct the project.
The motion was opposed by multiple intervening parties including the Champaign County Commission, townships of Goshen, Union and Urbana, and citizens group Union Neighbors United (UNU).
Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi said Tuesday that the Prosecutor’s Office will meet with its clients to answer legal questions and evaluate their options before deciding on the next course of action.
Jack Van Kley, attorney for UNU, said Monday the board’s action was an erroneous decision to extend the certificate by approving a motion to extend it. Van Kley said that to evaluate the effect on the public, the board has to consider an application for an amendment to the certificate.
Stating that there has been new evidence about the potential dangers of wind turbines since the original certificate was granted in 2010, Van Kley said the board needs to take another look at the certificate to determine if the science related to the project is still adequate to protect the public.
Van Kley said UNU plans to file a motion for rehearing.
The second phase of the project and an amendment to the first phase of the project are being appealed at the Ohio Supreme Court.
UNU is appealing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s issuance of an incidental take permit for the first phase of the project in the U.S. Court of Appeals. The incidental take permit was approved in July 2013.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.