WILMINGTON — At a formal hearing before the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), public comments were split for and against a proposed utility-scale solar project in Clinton County, which would be the first of its size here.
The OPSB is responsible for reviewing and approving plans for the construction of new energy infrastructure in Ohio.
After speakers were asked to swear or affirm the truth of what they were about to say, they presented their testimony at the 3-hour-and-16 minute local public hearing held in Expo Hall on the Clinton County Fairgrounds.
The project in question is named the Yellow Wood Solar Energy Center, a proposed 300-megawatt solar power generation facility in Jefferson and Clark townships in southern Clinton County. The land acquired for the project is about 3,000 acres, with a smaller amount actually going toward hosting the solar panels.
Residents who live near the site and who oppose the proposal gave a variety of concerns, lamenting the loss of viable and productive farmland, saying a solar facility emits a distracting noise, and asserting that fair, due process has been denied those in the area.
Supporters likewise voiced a range of reasons, including extra revenue for some school districts, that solar energy is part of the wave of the future, and a general need to switch to climate-friendly energy sources.
David Newhouse of the New Vienna area, who identified himself as a retired engineer, questioned whether the amount of sunlight here, compared to Arizona, is adequate.
He also wondered what would happen if the company goes bankrupt, saying it would be a major expense to remove the solar array.
“New technology needs to be developed that can provide a better solution [to supply energy needs],” he concluded.
Curtis Bickel regards having solar energy in the local area as a forward- looking action for future local generations.
“The future is this,” he said.
Craig Young of Xenia supports the project. He spoke of energy independence and climate change, and of tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere from coal plants.
Kelly Tolliver said it will be impossible to restore the on-site soil after the project runs its life.
Bob Thobaben said there previously have been significant changes to Clinton County’s landscape, pointing to the man-made creation of Caesar Creek Lake which meant the end of the village of New Burlington, as well as to the Melvin stone quarries.
He said it is a changing world, and that utility-scale solar projects can’t go just anywhere because they need to be near a high-power line.
Misty Carter of Lynchburg said she has petitions with 500 signatures of Lynchburg-area residents who oppose proposed solar projects in the region.
Trevor Elam of the Lynchburg area said the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) process is “lacking,” and Dave Gingerich of the Lynchburg area said he doesn’t trust the board’s process.
At least one speaker referred to a new Ohio law that authorizes local control over solar and wind projects.
However, it’s not believed the new Ohio law applies to the Yellow Wood Solar Energy Center because the proposed project had already met pre-existing application requirements.
Nancy Pfister of the Lynchburg area is one of the area residents who has sold or leased land to the company that’s developing the generation facility. She said she will have a more stable income to depend on that will not fluctuate.
She remembers the struggles she and her husband went through while farming the land over the past 50-plus years. The fields in lower Clinton County, she said, are harder to farm than others because of the way the land lies flat and is wetter and has poor clay soil.
“Southern Ohio will have a need for the electricity produced by this project due to coal-fired plants closing on the Ohio River,” Pfister remarked.
J. Craig Strafford, M.D., of the New Vienna area said, “We’re hoping that the [Clinton County] commissioners might consider using the [tax revenue or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes] money to develop and extend rural water in the area.”
Bruce Saunders of Wilmington, who is president of the Clinton County Trails Coalition (CCTC), said Yellow Wood officials are interested in partnering with the trails group and help build a recreational trail through the properties it’s acquiring, “as another way they can give back to the community.”
The proposed solar array properties border an abandoned rail line that once connected Lynchburg, Westboro and Blanchester, said Saunders.
The CCTC is interested in doing a recreational trail in the southern part of the county where recreational facilities are scarce, he added.
“They [Yellow Wood] would grant us an easement to the abandoned railway corridor that is part of the properties,” said Saunders. “We would also ask them to do the grading and excavating for the trail along Lynchburg Road during the construction process of the solar farm.”
Next in the application process is an adjudicatory hearing on Nov. 17 in Columbus, for which parties to the case provide sworn pre-filed testimony and can cross examine witnesses.
Afterward, the parties may be allowed to file briefs. Then the OPSB administrative law judge will draft a proposed decision for consideration by the Board at one of its monthly agenda meetings.
When the Board decides, parties have 30 days to seek an appeal with the OPSB.
According to an OPSB flyer available at this week’s hearing, the board’s mission “is to support sound energy policies that provide for the installation of energy capacity and transmission infrastructure for the benefit of the Ohio citizens, promoting the state’s economic interests, and protects the environment and land use.”
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.