WILMINGTON — At a public forum about a proposed 300-megawatt solar power generation facility in southern Clinton County, county commissioners made it clear they’ve already taken steps to guard the county’s best interest.
The special evening session of the Board of Clinton County Commissioners was held to allow residents who will be directly impacted by the potential Yellow Wood Solar Energy Center project a chance to raise concerns and ask questions.
Prior to opening up the Tuesday meeting at the courthouse for attendees’ comments, Clinton County Commissioners President Mike McCarty said commissioners decided to “intervene” with the Ohio Power Siting Board because of the county’s near-term interest with water runoff, weed management, and roadway use, as well as a long-term interest in what occurs at the proposed facility’s site when operations end.
A spokesman with Invenergy, a Chicago company which is the project developer, told the News Journal last November the land already leased for the project is about 3,000 acres. The land in question is in Jefferson and Clark Townships.
Residents who live near the proposed site voiced a range of concerns at the Tuesday forum, including effects on water in their wells, real estate sale values, dust and noise during construction, prison-like fences surrounding the solar array, leakage from solar panels, and a need to protect the rural character of Clinton County.
“This is still primarily an agricultural county. I’m proud of it,” said Kirk McMillan of the New Vienna area.
A number of forum participants were unhappy they were not made aware sooner of the planned project.
One man from the Martinsville area said you can’t put your faith in what these big companies say.
A couple opponents of the project said they’re in favor of renewable energy.
“There’s got to be a better way than taking good quality farmland,” one person said.
The soil structure on the site will be ruined by the heavy equipment during construction, said another.
One attendee said a lot of residents near the proposed site still use a well, and thus they worry about any effects on well water. He wondered whether commissioners could negotiate a survey of wells in the area, and find out how many people are pumping well water into their homes.
The same man said Jefferson Township is zoned residential and agricultural. “It’s not zoned industrial park; it’s not zoned industrial at all,” he added.
That forum attendee went on to suggest the commissioners consider making it mandatory that the solar panels in the project, if it goes forward, be purchased from an Ohio company, and that they also require that discarded panels be recycled.
Nicole Oberrecht from the Lynchburg area opposes the project.
“… Instead our fate is in the hands of the Ohio Power Siting Board. Citizens of the community with skin in the game should have the authority to approve or disapprove these projects at a local level, not a panel of individuals in Columbus,” said Oberrecht.
She questioned whether the electricity generated would stay here for local use.
Affected landowners, said Oberrecht, “are trying to protect the rural character of our community and our home investments.”
Dust from construction will collect on rooftops, and from there end up in water cisterns and drinking water, she said.
Oberrecht asked commissioners not to grant a tax abatement on the project, and moreover, to intervene through the Ohio Power Siting Board “as an opposing party.”
J. Craig Strafford, M.D., of the New Vienna area, asked commissioners to act so as not to jeopardize the county’s long-term interest, but at the same time to look at the opportunity and see whether the project would benefit the community.
He thinks commissioners need to appreciate there are some very real benefits from solar, and that “it is not an environment-killing, well-poisoning thing.”
Commissioners have retained the law firm Frost, Brown, and Todd as outside legal counsel to help the county avoid mis-steps and, to the extent allowable under law, ensure the county is made whole on the items and terms within its authority.
If a property owner reaches a lease agreement with a solar company for a facility capable of producing 50 megawatts or more of electricity (such as Yellow Wood), local government including county commissioners and township trustees have no jurisdiction to deny them access to build solar fields, according to an informational packet distributed at the courthouse forum.
Attorney Emmett M. Kelly of Frost, Brown, Todd was at the forum. He said a required public hearing will be scheduled for a location near the project. It will allow citizens to take part in the process by voicing their concerns and having their questions answered.
This required public hearing is held by the Ohio Power Siting Board.
The exclusive authority to determine whether the facility can be sited at the location rests with the Ohio Power Siting Board.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.