Two Greene County commissioners oppose solar project

Two county commissioners oppose a proposed solar energy project that is seeking state authorization to build in Greene County, and all three commissioners have said they are opposed to an alternative payment program associated with the project.

Texas-based Vesper Energy, formerly known as Lendlease, has plans to develop more than 1,500 acres of farmland in Miami Twp., Xenia Twp. and Cedarville Twp. into a solar farm. Vesper Energy plans to call the development Kingwood Solar Farm.

The site is along Clifton Road and Wilberforce-Clifton Road near John Bryan State Park and Glen Helen Nature Preserve. Vesper Energy has secured long-term leases with 17 land owners in that area.

Residents have been split on the issue. Those who are in a lease with the company feel they’re doing what is best for their family and those who don’t have a lease say they are upset they will have to look at the panels.

Greene County commissioners for the first time since an application was filed for the project met directly with Vesper last week in a lengthy and testy work session.

ExploreHundreds show up to listen, voice opinions about proposed Greene County solar project

Dylan Stickney, development manager with Vesper, said the work session with commissioners was constructive and most of the time was spent answering questions, like economic impacts and concerns from the community.

“I hope that with each meeting, discussion and filing, the public will continue to learn more about Kingwood Solar and how solar development in general can be a significant benefit to a local community, and is a critical step for the energy transition,” Stickney said in an emailed statement.

At the meeting Commissioner Tom Koogler said he is opposed to the project and feels the project is profit-motivated and not community-motivated. He said he feels the project is being “rammed down the community’s throats.”

“The meeting just confirmed my concerns,” Koogler said. “This is not going to be good for Greene County. Nothing positive is going to come out of this for Greene County. Quality of life is important for the people of Greene County.”

Commissioner Dick Gould said he is not opposed to solar, but doesn’t like that this project is planned to be so close to natural resources, like Glen Helen and John Bryan State Park, and in a highly populated area of the county. Gould said that area of the county has grown substantially in the past decade in terms of population and he thinks putting solar panels there would be intrusive on many people’s homes.

“I know a lot of it is dictated by the transmission lines, but there are more rural areas that would be better suited,” Gould said.

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Commissioner Rick Perales said the two most important things for the commissioners to do are understand what they have authority over and to make sure the correct information is getting out to the community about the project.

“I’m not for them or against them yet. I’m still doing my due diligence,” Perales said. “I don’t know that that’s even our role. We can be an intervener and say we need road maintenance, we need this, that or the other, and that could be our intervention. It doesn’t have to be it’s right or wrong, because quite frankly we’re not making the decision, that’s solely the role of the Ohio Power Siting Board.”

County Administrator Brandon Huddleson has said the county will likely file to be an intervener in the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) process. An intervenor does not need to take a stance on a project to be involved.

An official application was filed April 16 with the OPSB for this project. Now that the application has been filed, OPSB staff will take up to 60 days to review the application for completeness with the board rules and ensure it contains all the required information for the staff to move forward to the next stage, said Matt Butler, spokesman for the OPSB. Staff can request additional information if they feel an application is not complete. Once the application is deemed complete, hearings will be set.

The county has time to file to be an intervenor until hearings are scheduled.

Miami Twp., Cedarville Twp. and Xenia Twp. have all filed to be intervenors in the case. The Tecumseh Land Trust and a farming operation under the name In Progress LLC have also filed to intervene, according to OPSB documents. In Progress LLC farms 15 acres of land that would be adjacent to this project.

The OPSB makes the final decision on a solar project. The county does have a say when it comes to considering a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program. PILOTs provide a consistent, guaranteed yearly payment from the company to the county for the life of the project. That would be done instead of taxing the facility, which would also generate annual payments but those would decrease over time as the facility’s equipment ages.

Huddleson said he will recommend commissioners not accept the PILOT program. Additionally, none of the commissioners said they would be in favor of approving the program.

“Based on pure numbers, I would be opposed to the PILOT,” Gould said.

According to an estimated tax revenue analysis prepared by Kingwood Solar, the county would collect about $49 million in taxes without the PILOT from 2021 to 2050. With the PILOT, the county would collect about $45 million in that same time period.

“I have not seen a convincing argument for the PILOT yet,” Perales said.

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