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Nov
29
2022
Miami Township

Trustees to talk large-scale solar

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On Monday, Nov. 7, village and township residents will have the chance to sound off on large-scale solar farms and voice their concerns and opinions, whether in support or opposition.

The Miami Township Board of Trustees will hold a public hearing during their bi-monthly regular meeting on Nov 7, beginning at 5 p.m., in the Miami Township Fire-Rescue community room. According to a public notice from the Township, the purpose of the hearing is to gather public input on the viability or desirability of utility-scale solar or wind energy installations on unincorporated land in the township.

Residents of the village and township may also submit written testimony to be considered at the hearing; written testimony must be sent via mail in care of the Miami Township Trustees to 101 E. Herman St., Yellow Springs, OH 45387; or via email to trustees@miamitownship.org, prior to the meeting.

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The hearing follows a motion made by Trustee Don Hollister at the board’s Oct. 17 meeting.

Hollister asked that the board write a letter to the Greene County Board of Commissioners urging that the entity prohibit the installation of large solar energy arrays on land zoned for agricultural use in Miami Township via authority granted by Senate Bill 52.

Since Gov. Mike DeWine signed SB 52 in July 2021, counties have had a great deal more power to block solar and wind companies from installing large-scale arrays on agricultural land. Before the bill was signed, even if a township’s zoning code designated agricultural land as off-limits to development, the Ohio Power Siting Board, or OPSB, was the last authority on approval or denial of large renewable energy installations. SB 52, among other provisions, grants county commissions the ability to pass a resolution banning 50-megawatt or larger solar farms and five-megawatt or larger wind farms on unincorporated agricultural land.

The Miami Township Board of Trustees has a past record of opposing large-scale solar arrays: In 2021, the board passed a resolution to oppose the 175-megawatt Kingwood Solar field project, and filed to be intervenors in opposition to the project before the OPSB.

A project of Texas-based Vesper Energy, Kingwood Solar has been in development since 2017, and would site a large-scale solar panel array in Miami, Xenia and Cedarville townships.

According to past News reporting, about 1,000 acres of the planned total 1,500 to be taken up by Kingwood solar would be located on unincorporated agricultural land inside the borders of Miami Township.

When the 2021 township resolution was passed, the board cited the “prime soils” on the land planned for solar development and its proximity to Glen Helen, John Bryan State Park and Clifton Gorge as being among its reasons for opposition to the project.

The Kingwood Solar project is exempt from the county’s local authority because Vesper Energy filed application materials with the OPSB prior to the passage of SB 52. The OPSB held a final adjudicatory hearing on Kingwood Solar in March this year; a decision was expected by late summer, but the case is still pending.

Earlier this month, Cedarville Township requested that the Greene County Board of Commissioners enact its authority to declare its township land off-limits to future large-scale solar projects. Hollister cited this request as an instigator for his own proposed request to draft a letter, and added that he believes time may be a factor for Miami Township.

“I don’t want to wait, because … there’s talk about repealing Senate Bill 52,” he said. “This may be an issue in lame duck session [following the Nov. 8 election].”

Trustee Marilan Moir countered that the public needs time to weigh in on the issue, and that a letter shouldn’t be drafted until after hearing from the public.

“A lot of people talked to me and wrote things and interacted online in support of [Kingwood Solar], but they’ve never organized themselves to show up to our meetings the way the people in opposition to it did,” she said. “I always felt like there wasn’t a big enough [local] process.”

Hollister cited the resolution made by the board opposing Kingwood Solar and the attendant public meetings around the resolution, and went on to suggest that the OPSB has ignored that resolution in its considerations.

“We’ve had a public process and someone’s trying to overrule it,” he said.

Former Yellow Springs resident Drew Diehl, who has been a vocal supporter of solar initiatives in letters to the YS News, spoke at the board meeting following Hollister’s proposal. He made the case that there is no Ohio legislation that allows counties and local municipalities to refuse other energy sources besides solar and wind that can be harmful to agricultural and surrounding land, and that SB 52 is “strictly political.”

“[Ohio] has chosen to support the fossil fuel industry … and to try to prevent solar and wind in any way,” he said. “You don’t have any extra say on coal plants, or strip mines, or fracking or pipelines, or nuclear waste dumps.”

He also cited past corruption in state legislation surrounding energy — specifically 2019’s House Bill 6, which would have subsidized two nuclear energy plants and two coal plants owned by FirstEnergy, and lowered state standards for renewable energy. Parts of that bill were repealed in 2021 after former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was charged with accepting bribes from FirstEnergy to ensure that the legislation was passed.

Diehl acknowledged that the conflict between protecting agricultural land and making room for alternative energy sources is “difficult,” saying that the issue requires looking into “win-win solutions.” But he asked the trustees not to “legitimize” SB 52 by asking the county to prohibit large solar arrays in the township.

“The higher government is not interested in win-win solutions. … They get their money from the fossil fuel industry,” he said. “If you use SB 52 to prevent possible solar projects, you are legitimizing that tainted, corrupt system that they enacted.”

Hollister responded that his largest concern is that the state’s use of the OPSB has taken the power from local jurisdictions to decide how their land is used, and that he sees SB 52 as a way to take back some of that power.

“I think our local zoning authority should be respected,” Hollister said. “The Power Siting Board overrules it, and I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

The board voted 2–1 to draft a letter to be sent to the Greene County Commissioners asking that they “use their authority under Senate Bill 52 to prohibit utility scale solar installations on land in Miami Township that is zoned for agriculture”; Moir cast the dissenting vote.

The trustees later unanimously voted to hold a public hearing inviting input on the issue of large-scale solar arrays at its next meeting on Nov. 7. In the meantime, Hollister will draft the letter to the Greene County Commissioners, and the trustees will vote at the same meeting on whether or not to officially submit the letter.

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