Kingwood Solar reduces project scope after community backlash

Company cuts proposed solar panel land area by 20% after state staff recommends denying its application.

Kingwood Solar will amend its site plan to build a large-scale solar power utility in Greene County after local opposition prompted state regulators to recommend denial of its application before the Ohio Power Siting Board.

Kingwood would not use 320 of the originally planned 1,500 acres between Cedarville and Yellow Springs, a 20% reduction from the total project site area. For comparison, 1,500 acres is the equivalent of 2.3 square miles, although this project is not in one contiguous block of land.

The acreage reduction comes from increasing the fence setback to a minimum 50 feet from public roads and 250 feet from any nonparticipating residence adjacent to the project area. The road setback has also been increased to 300 feet along Ohio 68 and Ohio 72. The 320 acres would not house any above-ground equipment like solar panels, inverters, or fencing.

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Kingwood has also increased its landscape buffer by 10%, for a total of 44,000 linear feet of tree rows and shrubs along the project fence line. Nearly all of the utility and equipment at ground level will be buffered by existing vegetation or new planting.

Inverter stations will also be set back further, 500 feet from any nonparticipating house, a larger setback than any other developer in Ohio, said project manager Dylan Stickney.

“From the direct feedback we have received from community members, as well as guidance from the Greene County Land Use Plan Amendment passed in August 2021, we feel these changes address many of the physical concerns that have been expressed,” Stickney said.

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The staff of the Ohio Power Siting Board recommended in November that the OPSB board deny the company’s application. The company’s adjudicatory hearing before the Siting Board was moved to March 7, with the board’s decision expected in the spring. If approved, Kingwood hopes to begin construction this fall, with completion by 2023.

The 320-acre reduction means that the 17 landowners renting farmland to Kingwood could see a loss in rental income of roughly $320,000, or $19,000 per farmer annually, under the new plan. Kingwood acquired long-term leases from at least 17 landowners for the project in 2020.

Additionally, the decrease in project size means that the facility may reduce its generating capacity. Kingwood’s original target was to produce up to 360,000 megawatt-hours of electricity annually, expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 250,000 metric tons. The company is hoping to maintain that number by using more efficient panels, larger panels, or fitting more panels into less space.

“Typically the final site design doesn’t get chiseled in stone until close to when construction starts, but there’s likely going to be a cut on our end on how much energy we’re able to produce,” Stickney said.

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Many local residents have long opposed the solar utility, citing Kingwood’s use of prime farmland, and the proximity of the solar panels to rural homes. In November, individuals testified at a public hearing that Texas-based Vesper Energy, which owns Kingwood, had approached them in bad faith.

In October, Kingwood offered 65 residential homeowners with property immediately next to the Kingwood site a “good neighbor agreement,” or financial compensation between $7,500 and $25,000, on the condition they not publicly oppose the project. The homeowner would receive $1,000 on signing, followed by a larger sum once construction is set to begin.

The electricity generated from Kingwood Solar will not be shipped out of state, Stickney said, and will be distributed on the First Energy system in Greene County and surrounding areas.

“This will directly help Southwest Ohio to contribute to the critical transition to clean energy generation for a decarbonized and sustainable future,” he said.

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