The sound of chain saws will herald the start of construction of the New Market I & II Solar Farm project Friday, according to official notification received by the Highland County commissioners from Hecate Energy.
Officially designated Hecate Highland 4 LLC and Hecate Highland 2 LLC, the twin-solar fields are projected to generate, collectively, 100-megawatts of electricity over a nearly 1,000-acre footprint in Clay and Whiteoak townships in Southwest Highland County.
According to Patti Shorr, Hecate Energy senior vice-president of project development, the project recently received certification from the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB).
In a letter to the commissioners, she stated that preliminary tree clearing activity will commence March 26 and is expected to be completed by March 31, with further construction to begin thereafter.
She indicated that construction activities would be limited to the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or until dusk when sunset occurs after 7 p.m. due to Daylight Saving Time.
The construction phase of New Market Solar is expected to be completed by Dec. 31, with restoration activities to be completed by July 2022.
The start of construction on the first of Highland County’s proposed solar panel farms came on the heels of testimony that was heard Tuesday in Columbus concerning a pair of related bills in the Ohio House and Senate.
As previously reported, the Ohio Legislature stated that both House Bill 118 and Senate Bill 52 seek to give local townships the ability to vote on whether or not utility-scale wind or solar projects will be coming to their communities by allowing residents to hold a referendum.
The House measure would go one step further by permitting township voters, through a referendum petition process, to overturn a decision of the OPSB if it ruled that construction, operation or maintenance of a utility-scale energy facility was authorized in that township.
In Tuesday’s Ohio House Public Utilities Committee Meeting, four people from Highland County were among the 113 who submitted opposition testimony concerning the two measures, urging that they not be signed into law on the grounds of property rights infringement and that they would stifle economic growth in the state.
Mark Crowe, CEO of the Crowe Financial Group and Crowe farms, told lawmakers in his testimony that he farms 700 acres with 15,000 head of hog annually.
“I am also a landowner in a solar project and proud to use my land in a way that will benefit our community for years to come,” Crowe said in written testimony. “There is a significant amount of tax revenue associated with solar projects, with the majority of the revenue benefiting our local schools. My land will be more productive for my family and my community than its current use.”
Michael and Annette Houck have owned 258 acres in Highland and Clinton counties for the past 26 years and are involved with the Innergex Renewables Palomino Project.
In their testimony, both stated the two bills are an infringement on personal property rights.
“If this bill passes, it means that others — many not land owners — will have the final say in what we do with our property,” they wrote. “These voters have not paid our $16,000 repair bill on our combine, did not pay our $30,000 fertilizer bill and certainly did not pay our property taxes on our land each year.”
Highland County farmer Michael Lutmer, in his opposition to the measures, equated both the House and Senate bills to a legalized popularity contest, and said if that were the case, “we wouldn’t have natural gas plants, electricity generation stations or reliable electricity.”
“I was surprised to read the bill sponsors believe they are ‘allowing citizens of a township the ability to exercise their property rights through a public referendum with regards to solar projects,’” Lutmer wrote. “What’s next, where I can park my truck, build my barn or how big my house can be?”
Susan Munroe, director of Economic Development for Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, testified that House Bill 118 would pit neighbor against neighbor and called it an attack on landowner property rights.
The next event in the solar panel farm discussion will be on Tuesday, April 6 at 6 p.m. when the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio holds a virtual hearing on Webex to allow for public comment on National Grid Renewable’s proposed Ross County Solar farm.
Ross County Solar is projected to be a 120-megawatt solar power generating facility on 1,600 acres of land southeast of Greenfield across the Ross County line between Rapid Forge Road and S.R. 41.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.