State staff: Board should deny large Greene County solar plan

Hearings upcoming; Company is offering payments to neighboring landowners of Kingwood Solar operation

The staff of the Ohio Power Siting Board has recommended that the board deny Kingwood Solar’s application to build a large-scale solar power utility in Greene County. It’s one of only two recommendations to deny made to the state regulator in the last year.

The 59-page report contains the OPSB technical staff’s review of Kingwood’s application to construct a utility-scale solar facility on 1,500 acres between Cedarville and Yellow Springs. Kingwood Solar, owned by Texas-based Vesper Energy, filed its application in April.

Of the 20 solar utility cases pending before the Ohio Power Siting Board, staff reports have been made in 12 cases. Kingwood is one of two where the staff report recommended denying the certificate, the other being Birch Solar in Allen and Auglaize counties.

The next public hearing on the Kingwood Solar project is 6 p.m. Monday at the Greene County Expo Center Assembly Hall, 120 Fairground Road in Xenia.

If the OPSB does choose to issue the permit, the staff document recommends it do so under 37 conditions, which include establishing an emergency response plan, submitting a decommission plan and cost estimate, and consideration for native ecosystems and wildlife.

Conditions also include provisions for visual and landscaping plans to “reduce impacts” to neighboring residences with a direct line of sight, and that “aesthetic impact mitigation include good neighbor agreements or other methods in consultation with affected landowners and subject to staff review.”

Kingwood has begun the process of obtaining good neighbor agreements from neighboring landowners. In a letter sent to neighboring residents, Kingwood invited landowners to receive revenue from the project in amounts ranging from $7,500 to $25,000 based on property boundaries shared with the site.

“We recognize this may be an unexpected change to their property surroundings, especially during the construction process, and hope that these proposals can be a start to friendly relationships for years to come,” said Vesper Energy Development Manager Dylan Stickney.

Landowners would be paid $1,000 on signing, with the rest paid after Kingwood receives a notice to proceed with construction.

“As a neighboring landowner to the Kingwood Solar Project, we appreciate your understanding and cooperation as construction is scheduled to begin in 2022,” the letter reads. “Vesper Energy views each project in partnership with the host community and we strive to maximize the benefit to residents.”

The staff report is not the final decision of the Ohio Power Siting Board, but is “a major step in the review process,” representative Matt Schilling previously told the Dayton Daily News. The siting board also will take testimony from local governments, organizations and citizens into account.

Stickney added that the company plans to work with the OPSB staff regarding the recommended conditions in the staff report over the next several months.

“The Kingwood Solar Project has significant benefit to offer the Greene County community, and we are fortunate to be working with great landowners and have a solid support base from others within the community,” he said. “We intend to move forward with the OPSB process and do everything we can to advance this great project.”

In addition to Monday’s public hearing, Kingwood has an adjudicatory hearing before OPSB set for Dec. 13. The board’s decision is expected in January 2022.

Kingwood Solar is a 175-megawatt solar array operation expected to generate approximately 360,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year. Kingwood seeks to build the facility in Greene County because of its ideal sunlight conditions for solar development, land availability, and proximity to the electric grid. Kingwood Solar acquired long-term leases from at least 17 area landowners to build the solar farm on their property.

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