Siting board decision: Proposed wind farm location opposed by bird observatory

Larry Limpf

News Editor

Oral arguments were heard by the Ohio Supreme Court last week in a case that will decide if a state agency properly authorized the construction of a wind farm in Northwest Ohio.
In a somewhat ironic twist, two non-profit organizations that have worked to preserve natural areas, find themselves on opposing sides in the case.
In 2021, the Ohio Power Siting Board approved a certificate for Firelands Wind that allows up to 73 turbines with a generating capacity of 847,000 to 952,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year. The wind farm would operate as the Emerson Creek Wind Project on 32,000 acres of rural land in portions of Huron and Erie counties.
The siting board imposed more than 40 conditions for Firelands to meet during construction and after the wind farm started up, so the project would have a minimal adverse impact on the environment.
Still, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and 19 area landowners objected to the certificate and, after the siting board denied the objections, filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court.
The observatory cites the dangers the turbines would pose to a prime habitat for migratory birds while the Ohio Environmental Council is arguing that wind energy is needed to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and the harm from climate change.
In a court filing with the bird observatory, the landowners near the proposed project site argue “the certificate fails to establish setbacks and other protections necessary to prevent wind turbine noise from causing discomfort, annoyance, sleep deprivation, and health disorders.”
A background sound survey by Firelands was “improperly conducted and inaccurate,” the filing says, and the certificate also “jeopardizes the quality and quanity of the underground water supplies used by the area’s residents.”
The opponents also question the impact the turbine foundations would have on a known karst plain where water has dissolved underground rock such as limestone and created underground caves, sinkholes, and water channels.
The Ohio Environmental Council filed its brief through what it called the lens “of essential climate action.”
“The siting board’s plan with the company appropriately protects important environmental resources, including the region’s bird and bat populations, especially in the context of climate change’s threat to those organisms,” the OEC brief says.
The opponents mischaracterize the legal duties of the siting board, the brief notes.
For its part, the siting board noted it prohibited turbines proposed for areas where there are known karsts and stipulated that Firelands must conduct tests for karsts in the project area in the plain before erecting a turbine.
The board also noted it stipulated conditions for Firelands to conduct bird and bat monitoring after operations begin, and, if state or federal wildlife officials determine there is an adverse effect on the wildlife, Firelands would have to develop a mitigation plan.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce and some area farmers also filed briefs in support of the wind farm.


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