Hot on the heels of an adjudicatory hearing held last week for New Market Solar I & II, another company gave formal notice last Friday that it wants to build a solar panel farm a few miles southeast of Greenfield in Ross County.
According to National Grid Renewables, the 120-megawatt Ross County Solar Project would occupy approximately 1,400 acres sandwiched between Rapid Forge Road and SR 41.
Jason Rafeld is the executive director of the Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition of Ohio (USSEC). He told The Times-Gazette that while it seems solar farms are popping up everywhere, they in fact can only go in specific locations.
“They can’t just go anywhere,” he said, “because when you’re talking about a large-scale solar installation, you need flat ground, and it also has to be close to an appropriate injection point where there are transmission lines.”
A quick glance at the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) site map for southern Ohio shows that all of the pending or approved solar farm construction extends in an imaginary line extending roughly northeast through Brown, Highland, Clinton, Ross and Pickaway counties, with only one approved site in the Appalachian counties (Vinton) due to the hilly terrain there.
He said one of the complaints he has heard over the years is that of disappearing productive farmland, similar to those complaints of urban sprawl heard nearly two decades ago when farmland was being gobbled up by developers and turned into subdivisions.
In addressing that concern, he said USSEC would soon commission a study to examine from an academic perspective what impact, if any, there would be in taking agricultural land out of crop production for solar power use.
The study, which he said would take up to six months to complete, would be done by the Ohio State University Voinovich School of Public Affairs.
Landowners, the majority of which he said were farmers, were supportive when approached by companies such as Hecate, Innergex or National Grid, because of the money involved and the reality of a guaranteed return.
“This is an opportunity for farm families to keep their farms in their family,” Rafeld said. “They can make a good profit off their land, and it’s reliable — you’re getting a contracted-for amount of money this year, and that same amount for the next 29 years after that.”
Another reason solar developers approach farmers is that their land had already been disturbed by farming, and he said for that reason, no forests were being cut down and no wet lands were being compromised, and the land that formerly produced a crop would now be producing electricity.
Unlike urban sprawl, where once productive farmland disappeared forever when home construction took place, Rafeld said that there were very strict legal measures in place mandating that the land used for solar farms be returned to the property owner in as good a condition as when the lease began, if not better.
“There is a very strong decommissioning requirement in the law that the OPSB requires in a decommissioning bond,” he said. “It basically says that at the end of contract, the law says you’re going to return this land into as good or better condition than when the lease began.”
He described building solar panel farms as one of the least intrusive construction projects that can be undertaken on a large scale for a community, compared with residential development, or commercial or industrial sites.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first local public hearing on the proposed Ross County Solar Project will be held virtually via Webex on Tuesday, April 6, beginning at 6 p.m.
Those wishing to offer testimony for or against the project must preregister with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio online or by phone before noon on Monday, April 5.
The web address for testimony registration is https://opsb.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/opsb/events/ross-county-solar-public-hearing, and the phone number is 1-800-686-7826.
Similar to the procedures followed with New Market Solar I & II, an adjudicatory hearing at the OPSB offices — the 11th step in the siting board’s 13-step process — is scheduled for Tuesday, April 27 starting at 10 a.m., also via Webex.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.