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Solar array charges opinions

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Discussion about the Antioch College farm waged on this week at a public hearing before Village Planning Commission, which considered the conditional use of a solar power array in the northeast corner of the college “golf course.” Over 50 villagers attended the meeting on Monday, June 9, which was something of a continuation of last month’s community forum on the wider topic of the farm. Because the hearing lasted over an hour and the commission had two other applications to administer that night, planners tabled Antioch’s solar application, also saying that a delay would give them adequate time to consider the issue.

“I don’t want to rush this,” Planning Commission member John Struewing said during the meeting.

Plan board will continue its deliberation at a special meeting on Monday, June 23, 7 p.m., at the Bryan Center. The event will not be an official public hearing, but the public is invited to comment.

Antioch Physical Plant Director Reggie Stratton summarized the application for a 1-megawatt solar array developed and owned by Solar Power & Light. The installation would provide enough electricity that, coupled with two geothermal heating and cooling systems, would make the college one of the first in the nation to produce 100 percent of its own renewable power needs. The array will consist of 20 rows of panels about 10 feet tall, located on a 5-acre square beside the row of sycamores along Corry Street and north of the Antioch School property by about 220 feet, and surrounded by an eight-foot chain-link fence. SP&L will develop and initially own the array, which the college plans to lease and eventually buy. While the Village power rates are figured with the college’s current level of consumption, if the college is permitted to install the solar array, it has agreed to continue to compensate the Village financially so that rates would not increase, Stratton said.

In response to several questions about sinkholes, SP&L COO Brent Boyd said that SP&L had reviewed a study conducted by former Antioch College geology professor Peter Townsend and designed the array around one large sinkhole with accommodations for several “micro-sinkholes” under the project. In addition, Village consulting engineer John Eastman analyzed the stormwater runoff from the solar field and concluded in his “professional engineering opinion that the drainage impacts due to the proposed solar farm are minimal.”

The planners also asked questions of their own and commented on various aspects of the project. Plan board member Chris Till had concerns about whether the commercial power production installation would fit with the surrounding residential area. But he said several times during the meeting that because for the past 80 years until 2008 the college had operated a power plant in that same vicinity on Corry Street, the solar proposal appeared to be consistent with the long-term land use of the area. Also Village Council representative Gerry Simms said that he had visited a similar solar array at Cedarville University and found the noise, visual obstruction and safety concerns to be minimal or nonexistent.

About 10 neighbors and members of the Open Space Coalition, a group opposed to using the “golf course” as a model farm and solar field, shared their views and asked questions about the location, noise level, safety, reflectivity and the general neighborhood compatibility of the array. Former Village manager Laura Curliss spoke first from the audience, saying that the array was an “industrial scale project” being placed within the village adjacent to Glen Helen, which she called an “unusual” decision.
“Let’s be clear, this isn’t an educational project. It is a commercial electrical” project, the likes of which her former city of Wilmington tucked away next to its wastewater treatment facility.

“This [golf course] area is designed for future residential development, but when an eight-foot chain-link fence goes up, it will be hard to create a residential area there — it will change the character of the area.”

Neighbor Laura Ellison echoed Curliss’ words, adding that the solar field is “not a community project” but a commercial endeavor not in keeping with the historical and architectural design of the campus or surrounding residences.

Several neighbors, including Betty Ford, Phil King, Ruth Lapp, Robert Baldwin and Chad Stiles said that the golf course had been “sacred,” “verdant,” green space for as along as they could remember and hoped the college could see fit to keep it that way by finding an alternative location for the “huge,” “monstrous” array.

“Putting a farm in the heart of the downtown … clashes with the natural area and park-like neighborhood,” Lapp said. Baldwin suggested he would “do anything” to relocate it to the Vernay property on Dayton Street.

Neighbor Ryan Peirson urged planners to “get the details tonight” because failure of the project would be worse than early denial. “Asking for forgiveness is harder than asking for permission,” he said.

An equal number of villagers at Monday’s meeting spoke in support of what they perceive as a much-needed project and its reflection of the village’s own environmental and cultural values. Speaking for the Village Energy Board, which reviewed the solar plans, Dan Rudolf said that the college did the best it could to locate and design the array for the greatest efficacy, and the energy board unanimously supports the project. Richard Lapedes tied the solar field and farm plan to a “powerful” modern pedagogy and the success of the college, which is the “reason many of us are here” in Yellow Springs, he said. Several others, including Eric Wolf, Harvey Paige, David Scott, Sandy King and Pat Murphy, lauded the college for forging a responsible path toward environmental stewardship and social justice on a global scale. Wolf called the solar array, in the face of the alternative wars over oil, a “minor inconvenience.”

Shane Creepingbear said that energy that doesn’t come directly from renewable, on-site sources comes from “somewhere else,” such as the fossil fuels harvested from ravaged lands in other states.

“It’s a great privilege to sweep it under the rug and pretend that it doesn’t exist — that damage to green space isn’t happening somewhere else … by not accepting that as a responsibility, you are actively in favor of destroying land that you don’t have to look at every day.”

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