Wind farm project allowed to go forward after Ohio Supreme Court ruling

By: - July 28, 2023 4:45 am

(File photo) The Blue Creek wind farm, which spans Paulding and Van Wert counties in Ohio, consists of 152 wind turbines with a total capacity of 304 megawatts. (Photo by Robert Zullo/ States Newsroom.)

The Ohio Supreme Court gave final approval to a permit for a 71-turbine wind farm that would span Huron and Erie counties, despite residents and one bird observatory’s objections.

Firelands Wind, LLC, was issued a “certificate of environmental capability and public need” to construct a wind-powered electric generation facility in northern Ohio.

A group of 19 residents around the proposed project site, along with the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, asked the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider the approval of the certificate, saying it does not include protections to prevent noise from the turbines “from causing discomfort, annoyance, sleep deprivation and health disorders,” along with risks to birds, bats and the local economy.

As part of their appeal, the group claimed the Ohio Power Siting Board accepted an “improperly conducted and inaccurate” background sound survey as part of the certification process.

The group also argued approval of the turbine project “jeopardizes the quality and quantity of the underground water supplies used by the area’s residents” and does not account for possible “property damage, injury and death from fires and blade shear” and even bird deaths that could be caused by the blades.

The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the power siting board’s order, with Justice Patrick DeWine writing for the court.

The state’s highest court said the group did not do enough to establish that the board should not have approved the certificate.

“We conclude that the residents and Black Swamp have not established that the board’s order was unlawful or unreasonable,” DeWine wrote.

The court was satisfied with what Firelands had done to mitigate issues presented by the residents, along with the siting board, who prohibited construction of eight of the turbines in areas where water quality might be affected, for example.

“The residents have not proved that those additional restrictions were insufficient or that the evidence required prohibiting all turbine construction in the … area,” according to the court decision.

On the claims of an improperly conducted noise study, the court found that while “nothing precludes the board from imposing noise limits that go beyond those required by the Ohio Administrative Code,” the court was still unable to find anything unlawful about the decision.

In the board’s decision certifying the wind turbine project, they found the impacts to birds to be “predictable” and “reasonably in line with similarly situated wind farms that have received certificates in Ohio.”

That, combined with site studies provided by Firelands convinced the court that the a “minimum adverse environmental impact” determined by the board was reasonable.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the wind farm had a “preliminary risk” of killing about 2.5 eagles per year, but that the eagle population in the area would increase over time. Firelands agreed to mitigation procedures, such as an “eagle conservation plan,” which the Ohio Siting Board found to be a “sufficient safeguard to protect bald eagles.”

The board’s acknowledgement that some bald eagles may die didn’t outweigh its determination that the project represented “the minimum adverse environmental impact, considering the state of available technology and the nature and economics of the various alternatives and other pertinent considerations.”

“We cannot say that the board’s determination that the facility represents the minimum adverse environmental impact was unreasonable,” the court concluded.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.