Madison County Solar Farm Would Be One of the Largest in U.S. – Columbus Underground

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The Ohio Power Siting Board will weigh in this week on a proposal to build one of the largest solar farms in the country just west of Columbus. The 800-megawatt Oak Run Solar Project would take up about 4,400 acres of a 6,050-acre project area that is now mostly farmland, but a portion of that land would continue to be farmed.

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The company behind the project, Savion, has committed to farm at least 2,000 acres of the project area, using a variety of techniques – such as planting crops in between rows of solar panels – that have been used for years in other places, but never at this scale.

The proposed development is located near the intersection of Urbana-West Jefferson Road and State Route 38, in Madison County.

Savion is a Kansas City-based renewable energy company that was acquired by Shell New Energies US, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, in 2021. The company recently completed a smaller development nearby, the Madison Fields Solar Project, which is providing 180 megawatts of power on about 1,200 acres.

Savion is working with OSU to grow crops on that land as well, and on social media has posted images of wheat and soybean crops that were planted and harvested on the site in 2023.

Experts on agrivoltaics – the term for any kind of agricultural production (crops, livestock, or pollinator habitats) underneath or next to solar panels – have expressed excitement about the potential for Oak Run to provide a large-scale demonstration of the practice that could lead to it being adopted in more projects.

A portion of the land Oak Run would be built on is owned by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, according to local officials and several different media reports, but he has not commented publicly on the proposal.

Savion filed its initial application for the development with the Ohio Power Siting Board in September of 2022 and the board’s staff recommended approval in March of last year, but the project has run into significant opposition from neighbors and local elected officials – the Madison County Board of Commissioners voted two-to-one to officially oppose the project last April.

Local township boards have also come out against the proposal, citing the removal of prime farmland and the potential impacts to drainage and to the rural character of the county. Jake Zuckerman of Cleveland.com reported that the townships – and possibly an anonymous donor – have paid Columbus lawyer Jack Van Kley to help fight the Oak Run development.

Van Kley has led similar fights against renewable energy projects around the state.

Savion representatives have stressed the economic benefits the solar farm would bring, estimating that it would generate $250 million in tax revenue for Madison County and create hundreds of jobs during its construction and operation phases.

The Oak Run project would generate enough electricity to power about 170,000 homes, according to Savion, and also would include a 300-megawatt battery energy storage system.

The proposal is on the Ohio Power Siting Board’s agenda for this Thursday, March 21. The meeting, which will be streamed on YouTube, will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the offices of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

For more information on the meeting, see www.opsb.ohio.gov.

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