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

Greene County commissioners heard from a large crowd at a town hall meeting Tuesday night about their concerns over a large scale solar project proposed near Yellow Springs.

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. Township trustees from those three townships were also present at the town hall.

The project would run 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.

About 40 of the roughly 200 people in attendance spoke at the two hour-long meeting, mostly against the industrial-scale solar project. A handful of people spoke in favor of the project.

Many residents spoke about how they feared this project would impact their property values and the region.

“My father used to tell me that God isn’t making any new land and we need to be good stewards of the land,” said Margaret Neff, who lives in Cedarville across the street from where the proposed solar substation would go. “You can’t tell me that this isn’t going to make my property values go down.”

David Rich, who lives in Cedarville and is a political science professor at the university, said he’s had experience in city planning and putting an industrial project in the middle of a residential area is “just bad planning.” His wife, Ann Rich, also spoke against the solar project and said that an individual’s property rights exist within the broader context of the larger community.

“We don’t need this. We don’t want this,” said Cedarville resident Shep Anderson.

Several residents spoke who said they would be surrounded on several sides by panels and didn’t want that to be their view. Many also spoke about the reasons they chose to move to the area.

Jenifer Adams, who lives in Miami Twp., said she moved to the area about five years ago for the rural setting.

“This used to be my sanctuary, my place to unwind,” Adams said. “I would have never moved here if I knew this was happening.”

Residents also expressed concerns about how the panels could affect wildlife, drainage and the impact on the soil and water tables. According to the Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition of Ohio, a pro-solar organization, solar farms don’t cause air pollution, water pollution and there are no chemical emissions. As part of the siting process, Vesper must conduct environmental assessments on how their development would impact the area.

Some who spoke said the proposed project has caused division in the community between landowners who signed a lease and those who did not.

Jane Sweet is one of the land owners whose property the solar project would be on. The farmland is in Miami Twp., but Sweet lives in Berea, outside of Cleveland, with her husband.

She is the fourth generation to farm on that land, Sweet said her generation farms soybeans and corn. Her great grandfather started the farm in 1874. Sweet’s daughter lives in Columbus and returns to the family’s land to farm regularly.

“We have to look at the future. We can’t continue with the way our parents and grandparents did it,” Sweet said. “I also wouldn’t want my view blocked, but if its going to help my farm, I’ll do it.”

Joe Krajicek said he was offered a lease in 2017, but turned it down because it seemed lopsided in the company’s favor and the prices they were offering didn’t make sense to him and his family. The lease would have given the company complete control of the farmland. What he was offered would have added up to about $1.6 million over the course of the lease, but he felt that amount wasn’t worth it to burden his neighbors or disrupt the community.

“I had so many nice neighbors around me that had either newly built homes or had older, established homes that I wasn’t about to sell out to them and put panels in their backyard for them to have to look at all the time, I wouldn’t want to see it. So it wasn’t worth it to me to do that,” Krajicek said.

Krajicek said he is in favor of solar, but he doesn’t think an industrial-scale solar project is a good fit in a community like this, with the Little Miami Scenic Corridor, Glen Helen and John Bryan State Park nearby.

“The collateral damage is happening all the time, these companies come in, they put family against family, neighbors against neighbors,” Krajicek said.

Community members also wondered what the benefit to them would be, since the solar energy generated at Kingwood would go elsewhere.

Vesper representatives previously told Greene County commissioners the project would create about 300 construction jobs and 5 permanent jobs. All the electricity would be distributed locally and the power would be sold wholesale.

“This project is not about bringing renewable energy to Greene County,” said Cedarville Twp. resident Nicole Marvin. “It’s about economics.”

Vesper has also asked commissioners to consider a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program, a consistent, guaranteed yearly payment for the life of the project, instead of taxing the project facilities as depreciable personal property, a sum that would decrease over time, instead of paying regular taxes on the development, according to Ohio Revised Code. Greene County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said he will recommend that commissioners not accept the PILOT program.

Some preapplication paperwork was recently filed for the Kingwood Solar project with the state and public information meetings were held on March 30.

Dylan Stickney, development manager with Vesper’s Kingwood Solar project, said they plan to have an in-person public meeting when mass gathering restrictions are lifted. He encouraged Greene County residents to continue to ask questions about the project.

“I think it’s great that so many people showed up and asked questions and voiced their concerns,” Stickney said. “There were some concerns that I personally don’t agree with, but we plan to share the correct information in everything that we share and post and in our responses as people reach out to us directly. We want to be as transparent as possible.”

There are about 25 Ohio solar projects pending or in the pre-application phase with the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), which is the body that approves these large energy projects. These projects are in various stages of development across the state. About 10 projects have been approved and a few are currently in construction.

The OPSB holds a public hearing and then a more formal hearing on all proposed projects. Applicants must notify neighbors in the surrounding area they intend to apply and hold an informational meeting.

A local government can intervene during the preapplication stage. Once the application is complete, the OPSB conducts an investigation of the project which includes site visits. The whole process takes about nine months to a year.

Miami Twp. trustees on Feb. 1 passed a resolution stating they plan to intervene in the Ohio Power Siting Board process for the Greene County project. Tecumseh Land Trust also plans to intervene, a speaker said on Thursday.

Greene County commissioners have obtained outside legal counsel, Thaddeus Boggs of Frost Brown Todd law firm, to help them potentially intervene in the process.

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