The Ross County Solar public hearing drew an equal number of those for and against the Greenfield-area solar panel farm project, with 14 individuals offering testimony before the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) Tuesday evening that at times became impassioned.
Ross County Solar, LLC is a proposed 120-megawatt solar electric generating farm to be built in Ross County, across the Highland County/Ross County line and just south of Greenfield.
National Grid Renewables (NGR) is the prime contractor on the project. They hope to build on 1,400 acres of land in Buckskin and Paint townships.
Patricia Meyers said she had lived at her residence on Moxley Road for more 35 years, and that her front porch was about 1,500 feet from the southern edge of the project.
“We have so many concerns about this project, like the safety of the panels, the loss of farmland and the Greenfield city wells are about a mile from the northern end of this project,” she said. “To place 1,400 acres of solar panels in one of the most beautiful spots in all of southern Ohio will ruin the view of the Buckskin Valley that you see from Rapid Forge Road.”
From Gary Ludwig’s perspective, who said he lives one-half mile from the project area, the lack of communication from the company to residents was “appalling,” and added he didn’t think NGR did its due diligence concerning plans for the facility.
He had concerns regarding property values, and questioned the long-term tax implications for those property owners that didn’t lease their land to NGR, comparing the company to the oil and gas speculators his family knew of while growing up in eastern Ohio.
The subject of property values hit close to home for Makenzie Wharton, who shared during the hearing what she had been encountering in trying to sell her home on Rapid Forge Road.
“I live directly in front of where the solar panels are going to be put, they’ll be right in front of our driveway,” she said. “We put our house up for sale on March 20, and we were made an offer within 48 hours.”
However, she said that later that evening the potential buyer backed out on the purchase when they discovered the plans for the solar panel farm. After having had 10 more showings, said her home’s proximity to the solar farm was given as the reason for not making any offers to buy.
Christina Sizemore of Wilmington, who said she was part owner of a family farm in Paint Township, advocated delaying the progress of Ross County Solar until a pair of measures being considered in the Ohio legislature were either adopted or tabled.
As previously reported in The Times-Gazette, the Ohio Legislature website 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.
Sizemore said that although she was a supporter of utility-scale solar, she had reservations on this project — especially the ramifications of long-term leases — and felt it best if the issue was left up to voters.
Expressing support for the solar project was Texas resident Sam Buyars, who told the OPSB that he owned a family farm at the intersection Rapid Forge and Lower Twin roads that his wife inherited from her mother 21 years ago. He said they had received inquiries from various solar companies in the last 10 years, but ended up signing leases with National Grid Renewables.
“Our experience with them has been very good,” he said. “They were very straightforward in all of our discussions and addressed every concern that we had.”
Another out of state resident who owns property inside the boundaries of the solar project was John Kinzer Jr. of Florida, who said he had heard much misinformation in Tuesday’s testimony and that he had signed a contract with NGR four years ago.
“I’m 68 years old and was a lifelong farmer,” he said. “The farm we own was my parents’ farm that they bought in the 1940s, and one of the things that makes it exciting for us is if the solar project is approved, I’ll be able to keep the farm and pass it down to my kids.”
He addressed a concern that had been brought up by several people during testimony, that being what would happen if the company were to go bankrupt?
“There is money appropriated that if the company goes out of business, a fund is set up to be used to dismantle the panels and put the land back as they found it,” he said. “That was in the contract I signed four years ago.”
Three members of the Rolfe family echoed the sentiments of saving the family farm, with Stanley Rolfe Jr. testifying that due to the uncertainties of farming, he almost had to sell his farm in the 1970s, with the real estate company telling him it would be used “for a garbage dump.”
“I signed my land over to Ross County Solar for a few reasons,” he said. “It’s my family property and it should be used to make enough to support my family however I want. I also believe it will be good for the community. And unlike the garbage dump proposal, it won’t smell and it won’t make noise since it’ll just set there and make electricity like it used to make corn.”
The next step in the discussion regarding the Ross County Solar project is an adjudicatory hearing scheduled for Tuesday, April 27 at 10 a.m. at the offices of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in Columbus.
The current status of two other NGR solar projects in Highland County was discussed briefly during Wednesday’s meeting of the Highland County commissioners.
Commission vice chairman Terry Britton said that the company’s 47.5–megawatt Fayette County Solar will be changing its location somewhat, with 7.5-megawatts of the facility moving into Highland County’s Madison Township near Greenfield.
“They were just going to have a connection point there, but the landowner wanted to rearrange what they were doing,” he said.
In its original configuration, Fayette County Solar was to occupy 435 acres of land in southeastern Fayette County, just across the Highland County/Fayette County line between Bonner, Barrett and Beatty roads.
Britton also said that NGR’s Dodson Creek Solar project would have its first virtual public hearing on Wednesday, April 28.
Dodson Creek is a proposed 117-megawatt facility planned to occupy 1,000 acres in Highland County southeast of Lynchburg.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.