Commissioners pass resolution restricting large solar farms – The People’s Defender

8 minutes, 37 seconds Read

By Sherry Larson

People’s Defender

Large solar energy farms have been a “hot” topic of discussion in Adams County. On Tuesday, February 20, a group of concerned citizens convened at the Adams County Commissioner’s meeting for a public hearing about the designation of the restricted area resolution for large wind farms, large solar farms, and large solar facilities pursuant to amended section 303 of the Revised Code as noted in Ohio Senate Bill 52.

In the bill’s language, “to permit a board of county commissioners to prevent power siting board certification of certain wind and solar facilities, to provide for ad hoc members of the power siting board, and to establish decommissioning requirements for certain wind and solar facilities.”

According to a-z-animals.com, “A solar farm is comparable to a traditional farm in that it fulfills a need for the public. While traditional farms provide meat and produce, solar farms provide energy. They are also known as photovoltaic power stations and solar parks.

A solar farm is essentially a collection of photovoltaic solar panels that take in the Sun’s energy. It then converts this energy into usable electricity, which it sends to the power grid. From the power grid, this electricity goes to residential and commercial consumers.

While single solar panels for buildings are typically mounted on rooftops, the panels in solar farms are typically attached to the ground. They can be very large, falling into two categories. There are utility-scale solar farms and community solar farms.”

Individuals attending Tuesday’s hearing were given five minutes to present their opinions in favor or against the proposed resolution. The proposed resolution, if approved, would restrict the construction of “Large Solar Farms or Large Solar Facilities” within Adams County.

Part of the resolution read by Commissioner Barbara Moore declared, “The Board of Commissioners pursuant to revised code 303.57 have been vested with the authority to regulate large utility facilities by way of designating all or part of the unincorporated areas of Adams County as restricted prohibiting the construction and siting of large utility facilities within restricted areas within their respective Township and whereas the Board of Commissioners of Adams County has considered the potential impacts of development, as well as property owners making their land available for development and whereas utilizing the resolutions of certain townships within Adams County, the Board of Commissioners has prepared a map containing the restricted areas within unincorporated areas of Adams County.” The referred-to map was posted for at least 30 days in all Adams County libraries.

The Adams County Large Solar Restriction Map depicts the following townships opposed to large solar: Winchester, Scott, Bratton, Franklin, Meigs, Oliver, Wayne, Liberty, Monroe, and Brush Creek. Tiffin, Jefferson, and Sprigg Townships are not designated. Green Township prefers solar on brown fields over green fields, but no restrictions exist. Monroe Township amended its restricted area and had unrestricted the land where the DP&L and Killen Station were located.

Attendees shared varying viewpoints, concerns, and comments. Joe Grove of Manchester asked the commissioners, “Can you give us an idea of the advantage of restricting these solar and alternative energies in any part of the county?” Ward answered, “Part of the advantage is the farmland. Our economics in Adams County is farming.” Grove replied, “Wouldn’t that be up to the individual farmer?” He continued, “By putting this in place, you will have zoning against alternative energy. In other words, a farmer cannot lease part of their land.” “That is correct,” said Ward.

Moore added, “In my opinion, there are competing interests. On one hand, you should be able to do whatever you want with your land.” Alternatively, she spoke of how a neighboring solar farm could affect the value of someone’s land. She also considered the long-term impact on the land. Grove countered, explaining that a neighbor could have wrecked cars and old appliances in their yard, and nothing could be done about this scenario and decreased property value. Ward interjected that there is a Revised Code dealing with junk in yards in unincorporated areas.

Tim Daniel asked “how much trouble” it would be to get rid of the solar panels and adequately dispose of them when a lease was up. Cleo Fenton commented, “There are no long-term studies to show what impact this will have.” She continued, “I would hate to step out my front door and see solar panels and wind farms instead of deer coming through the corn and bean fields.”

Adams County Director of Economic Development Paul Worley explained, “There are no current solar projects that we know of in Adams County.” Any pending large solar project must apply through the state, which will then notify the commissioners and township.

Scott Township met on February 12 regarding their decision on large solar farms. Worley explained that a solar company, RevRenewables, out of Texas, had worked with seven different property owners in Scott Township over the past couple of years. The company had optioned 1,200 acres for a potential 170-to-200-megawatt facility. He said, “The county was unaware of this project – the property owners were. But until this was publicly noticed, RevRenewables came to us and said, ‘Hey, we need to have this discussion with Scott Township about this project.’” He continued that they have tried to educate individuals on the benefits, advantages, and effects of a solar project in a short time. Worley explained that the Scott Township meeting produced many of the same debates discussed at the Commissioner’s meeting.

The Scott Township Trustees ultimately decided they did not want to amend their resolution to allow the solar project to go to the next feasibility phase. Worley announced, “As of now, that project is not moving forward. There is always an opportunity that the company could come back and work with those trustees.” Commissioner Moore piggybacked, “What we do today – if we pass the resolution to stop the solar for now – that doesn’t stop it permanently. But – if we don’t vote to stop it now – it’s coming. And we don’t all know what those long-term effects will be.”

The discussion continued with valid points made by proponents and opponents of restricting large solar farms. A compelling argument was regarding government overreach and whether elected officials should be able to decide what landowners can and cannot do with their properties. From what farmers grow to the animals they raise; some citizens are concerned that the reach is too much. Another issue is restricted competition for energy alternatives. Moore clarified that the solar situation is different due to the many unanswered questions about large solar farms. She said, “I think the state has given us that right to do restriction because they have recognized that it’s just different.” Ward added, “Do we want the state telling us what we can do with our property, or do we want our county and our trustees to decide?” Steve Sanada from Monroe Township stated his concern, “I don’t want to lose property rights.”

Brickergraydon.com reports, “One of the primary areas of misalignment between local communities and project developers is the tension between individual land use rights and the concern that solar development represents a loss of farmland. To further address this balance, OPSB has included additional requirements in approved permits (conditions) to protect the long-term opportunity for the solar project area to be returned to agricultural production after the project is decommissioned. Over the last year, OPSB has included, as a condition, the development of a comprehensive Agricultural Protection Plan (APP) designed to minimize impacts to agricultural land use during the construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning. In part, the APP must implement a soil testing process to establish the baseline preconstruction soil conditions and to require the restoration of the site to these baseline conditions. Grading under the APP must be limited, with a goal of limiting grading to 5% of the project area, with a firm limit of 20%. The APP requirements also include a number of topsoil management best practices for areas in which there is disturbance.

The APP appears to now be a standard condition at OPSB, although it may evolve in 2024 to refine how agricultural land use concerns are addressed and account for unique project areas.”

Steve Boehme asked Worley to clarify his support or non-support of large solar farms from the economic development standpoint. Worley said, “I think we want to be open to things – we want to have that discussion. What’s good, what’s bad, what’s best for our community.” He continued, “We want to get all the information out to folks and let them make the decision.”

Grove stressed the importance of educating ourselves on the subject. Up-to-date information and studies are crucial when deciding how to move forward. As was presented at the February 20 meeting, restricting large solar farms can affect a farm owner’s retirement plans. Tim Beeler announced that he had signed up with RevRenewables. He said, “This is not a lease agreement. They are purchasing properties for this.” Beeler went on to discuss the lessons learned from the power plants. Addressing proponents of the restrictions, he said, “You like things when they work for you.” He clarified, “You’re taking away my opportunity to improve my retirement because you say everything is bad.”

Ward clarified that small solar farms up to 50 megawatts and below are permitted at the discretion of each township and do not require the commissioners’ approval.

Following the hearing and a lunch break, Commissioners Diane Ward, Kelly Jones, and Barbara Moore voted unanimously to pass the resolutions. Townships can alter their resolutions. However, Ward said, “This resolution shall be in full force and effect 30 days after its adoption pursuant to Revised Code 303.59 unless it is timely petitioned for a referendum by the requisite number of registered electors in Adams County.”

Tons of articles and information are available with a Google search. Residents can read a plethora of information about the pros and cons of large solar farms. Visit electrek.co to learn about Ohio’s largest solar farm. Fox Squirrel Solara is a 577-megawatt facility located in Madison County. Adams County’s neighboring Brown County is the home of Hillcrest Solar, a 200-megawatt facility. It’s imperative to keep the conversation going. As Worley said during the February 20 meeting, “It’s a worthy discussion to have.”

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