One concerned citizen called the area “the wild west of solar panels,” and it was a frustrated, exasperated and at times hostile crowd that greeted State Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) in the Lynchburg fire station Tuesday evening.
The standing room only event was called to allow private citizens whose property either bordered on or was adjacent to any of the three proposed solar panel farms in the Lynchburg area to air their grievances about perceived devaluation of property values, loss of productive farm land, wildlife and health concerns, and fears of pollution of ground water.
Many were in support of a pair of bills making their way through Senate and House committees in the Ohio Legislature that would give local townships the right to vote yes or no on allowing large-scale utility solar or wind farms to build in their localities.
Wilkin told The Times-Gazette that as House Bill 118 and Senate Bill 52 stood, he would not support them in a floor vote, and that both were being redrafted with language changes.
“I do not support them as written,” Wilkin said, explaining the issue facing Lynchburg was essentially one of property rights. “My biggest concern is setting the precedent of what comes next. Do you want a township referendum on whether or not you can use a plastic bag? What about the option to have natural gas? What about propane, because these are all things that are coming through the House. Where does this stop, and where is the line when it comes to property rights?”
Joining Wilkin to answer the questions of the nearly 200 people who were in attendance were local township trustees, the Highland County commissioners, the Highland County auditor and engineer, and one of the Clinton County commissioners.
Moderating the at-times heated discussion was David Gingerich, by his own admission “the most vocal member” of a grassroots organization called Clinton County/Highland County Citizens Concerned About Solar Farms, which claims 611 members in a Facebook post.
The potential of substantial reductions in property values was the dominant question on everyone’s mind, with Wilkin saying that any opinions pro and con on the matter could be found online, and that “Good Neighbor Agreements” of $1,000 annually had been offered to some property owners with land near the boundaries of the solar farms.
“We don’t feel that a thousand dollars a year is fair compensation,” Gingerich said. “Some of our people are boxed in, in some cases on three and four sides.”
One woman questioned not only property values, but also health and safety issues since her husband was fighting cancer, and she said that there were plans to build a substation literally in her front yard near the driveway.
“There’s a reason why there are no substations in the middle of subdivisions,” she said. “My husband has stage-4 cancer, and it’s not just about whether I can sell my house now, because I won’t be able to — I will not get out of my house what it’s now worth.”
Highland County commissioner David Daniels told the crowd to be proactive and personally contact the Ohio Power Siting Board with its concerns.
“When you have the opportunity to talk to your state representative or send a letter to the OPSB,” he said, “your story will matter to them, whether it’s by writing a letter or going to a committee meeting and voicing your concerns in person — they won’t listen to us as commissioners, but they will listen to you.”
Highland County Board of Commissioners Clerk Nicole Oberrecht, whose property is within the boundaries of the proposed Yellow Wood Solar Farm in Clinton County, spoke passionately and expressed disappointment that since the project exceeded 50 megawatts, all decisions were made at the state level and not locally.
“Our fate is in the hands of the power siting board, and I think that citizens with skin in the game should have the authority to approve or disapprove these projects at a local level and not some panel of individuals in Columbus,” she said. “I don’t consider myself anti-solar, but I’m opposing this development to protect the health, safety and general welfare of my community.”
She said that if Yellow Wood was approved, her home would be surrounded on all-four sides “imprisoned with chain link fence, adorned with barb wire and a mediocre landscape buffer,” adding that any jobs realized would be short term and pointed out that the electricity generated wouldn’t even stay in Ohio.
Wilkin repeatedly told the crowd that approval and oversight of the utility-scale projects was on the state level through the OPSB, and though he admitted he had no influence with them, he said there were ways he could intervene on their behalf and make them aware of Lynchburg’s grievances.
A letter received Monday by the Highland County commissioners from the OPSB stated that the board was comprised of seven members — the chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the directors of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Development Services Agency, Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, in addition to a public engineer appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine.
Four non-voting legislative members, two from the Ohio Senate and two from the Ohio House of Representatives, complete the board’s membership.
The letter also pointed out that before any company can build a major utility in Ohio, a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need must be obtained from the OPSB.
In that way, the agency said, it is assured that each project will benefit the citizens of Ohio, promote the state’s economic interests and protect the environment and land use.
As previously reported, three companies have proposed building three separate solar panel farms that are in close proximity to Lynchburg, two in Highland County and one across the county line in Clinton County.
Across the Clinton/Highland county line in Jefferson and Clark townships in southern Clinton County, Invenergy has proposed to build the 300-megawatt Yellow Wood Solar Farm on nearly 3,000 acres.
Directly east of the village is the Innergex-planned Palomino Solar Farm, rated at 200 megawatts and proposed to occupy 2,800 acres across Penn, Union and Dodson townships in northwest Highland County.
Just south of Lynchburg is National Grid Renewables’ Dodson Creek Solar Array System, which had a public information hearing April 28 to answer questions about the 117-megawatt facility that is projected to sit on nearly 1,000 acres.
Two of the three facilities are currently listed in the preapplication phase by the OPSB, with the agency listing Yellow Wood as pending and stating the application fee was paid on May 4.
In the northeastern part of Highland County, National Grid Renewables planned an open house for Thursday, May 6, at the Madison Township Community Building, to acquaint people there of its plans to build Fayette Solar, a 47.5-megawatt solar electric farm in both Fayette and Highland counties.
The company said that part of the solar array system, capable of generating 7.5 megawatts, was planned to be constructed roughly one-half mile north of Greenfield.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.