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Jul
17
2024
Land & Environmental

On Dec. 15, the Ohio Power Siting Board denied the application of Vesper Energy to build a 175-megawatt solar photovoltaic array on 1,500 acres of farmland spanning Miami, Cedarville and Xenia townships. Pictured here, an estimated 300 people crowded into the Expo Center at the Greene County Fairgrounds last November for a public hearing conducted by the Ohio Power Siting Board to hear testimony from residents about the proposed project. (News archive photo by Carol Simmons)

EXTENDED COVERAGE | Kingwood solar project application denied

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The Ohio Power Siting Board, or OPSB, has denied the application of Texas-based Vesper Energy to establish the 1,500-acre Kingwood solar project in Greene County.

The OPSB presented its ruling at a Thursday, Dec. 15, meeting — its final meeting of the year — stating that the planned 175-megawatt, utility-scale solar field “does not satisfy R.C. 4906.10(A)(6), which requires that, in order to receive Board certification, a project must serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.”

In a document later posted by the OPSB to its website, the board wrote that it had considered the opinions of local governments and the public in its deliberations. The board cited resolutions of opposition to the project passed by Miami, Cedarville and Xenia townships and Greene County in late 2021, as well as public comments from residents.

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“Public comments … reflect opposition to the project at a ratio of approximately three to one,” according to the document.

The Kingwood Solar project has been in development since 2017, when Vesper Energy began reaching out to the owners of area agricultural land to secure potential 43-year leases. The company filed its application for the project with the state in April 2021.

Vesper Energy will have 30 days to appeal the OPSB’s ruling and request that the application be reconsidered in a second hearing. If the application is denied a second time, the company may bring their case before the Ohio Supreme Court.

In a public statement sent to the News and other media outlets this week, Vesper Energy’s Vice President and Chief Development Officer Juan Suarez wrote that the company is “disappointed” in the outcome, but that it will continue to pursue the Kingwood solar project through appeals.

“We plan to challenge the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court and are considering a new application for a smaller project to re-engage all stakeholders in a productive dialog,” Suarez wrote.

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

In addition to passing a resolution to oppose the project in 2021, the Miami Township Board of Trustees filed to be intervenors in opposition to the project before the OPSB,  citing 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.

At the most recent meeting of the trustees on Monday, Dec. 19, Trustee Chris Mucher said the board is considering the possibility of a joint resolution with Xenia and Cedarville townships in response to Vesper Energy’s intention to challenge the OPSB’s ruling.

If Vesper Energy’s appeal is denied by the state and the company submits an application for a “smaller project,” as mentioned in the public statement, that project could be subject to further obstacles. As previously reported by the News, Ohio’s recently passed Senate Bill 52 gives counties the power to bar utility-grade solar projects of 50 megawatts or larger on its unincorporated agricultural land. While the Kingwood project was not subject to SB 52 because Vesper Energy filed its application with the OPSB before the bill passed, a new project falling within the bill’s parameters would be.

The Miami Township Board of Trustees is still considering whether or not it will petition Greene County to declare Miami Township off-limits to utility-scale solar after a public hearing on the matter last month. If Vesper Energy files with the OPSB for a new project that includes Miami Township agricultural land, the Township will have 90 days to petition the County to overrule the application.

In November 2021, the OPSB held a public hearing to make the final determination about whether to greenlight the proposed Kingwood array. Around 300 people showed up to the hearing, which lasted nearly five-and-a-half hours. Most of those present were opposed to the project, but supporters spoke as well.

Concerns about the project expressed at the hearing included environmental impact; noise during construction and operation; appearance; the effects of harsh weather events; and negative interactions with Vesper officials that have prompted distrust.

Supporters stressed the environmental benefits of green energy; financial benefits to landowners; tax benefits; and the expectation that landowners be allowed to use their properties as they choose.

Following the public hearing, the OPSB originally scheduled the Kingwood case’s final hearing for December 2021; that hearing was pushed back until March 2022, with the OPSB originally expecting to make a ruling on the case by summer.

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