Miami Township Trustees— Locals sound off on solar possibilities
- Published: December 9, 2022
At its Monday, Nov. 7, regular meeting, the Miami Township Board of Trustees held a public hearing to listen to community feedback on large solar power installations from residents of the township, which includes Yellow Springs.
The hearing was prompted by a motion from Trustee Don Hollister at an Oct. 17 meeting of the board. The motion requested that the board write a letter to the Greene County Board of Commissioners recommending that they prohibit the installation of utility-grade solar energy arrays on agricultural land in Miami Township. The county is able to pass a resolution banning 50-megawatt or larger solar farms and wind farms of 5 megawatts or larger on unincorporated agricultural land by way of Senate Bill 52, which was signed into law last year.
The bill does not give counties similar authority on smaller solar fields and wind farms.
The Miami Township Fire-Rescue meeting room, where the Board of Trustees holds its bi-monthly meetings, was filled with township residents. Two dozen of those in attendance shared their thoughts in verbal testimony during the meeting, with opinions diverging about whether or not the board should submit a recommendation to the county to prohibit utility-scale solar in the township.
Those who spoke in support of the recommendation expressed distrust of the Ohio Power Siting Board, or OPSB, which held the final authority on approval or denial of utility-scale renewable energy installations prior to the passage of SB 52; concern over the loss of land zoned for agricultural use; and the disruption solar arrays might cause for nearby residents in terms of noise and aesthetics.
Others urged the board not to make the recommendation, citing the need for alternative energy sources due to climate change; the property rights of farmers who would not be able to lease their agricultural land should the county declare it off-limits; and a desire for the village and township to engage in further discussion to create a community plan for potential solar installations, whether large or small.
Several of those who spoke are residents of rural areas of the township who live near land committed to the proposed 175-megawatt Kingwood Solar project, about two-thirds of which would be located in Miami Township on land zoned for agricultural use. The OPSB has not yet made a decision to approve or deny the Kingwood project, which has been in development since 2017, prior to SB 52’s passage, and thus exempt from the bill’s tenets.
Citing their experiences with Texas-based Vesper Energy, which leads the Kingwood project, and the OPSB, the majority of those speakers were in favor of the board recommending that the county declare Miami Township off-limits to utility-scale solar fields.
“Kingwood Solar has taught us that local zoning and land use plans are essentially irrelevant in the OPSB process,” said Jennifer Adams, a rural township resident. “Ohio has not considered … what land should be protected from these facilities because it is better suited for agricultural activities.”
Township resident Bob Huston shared his concern that, though utility-scale solar companies report that solar fields can be decommissioned after several decades, returning the land to agricultural use, those decades still put potential farmland out of service for a significant period of time.
“It’s no different than if we paved it over for malls or other purposes,” he said.
Those who spoke against making the recommendation to the county elucidated concerns that excluding local land for utility-scale solar installations could limit efforts to curb reliance on fossil fuels. Township resident Tim Sontag said he thought residents “owed it to future generations” to leave solar possibilities open.
“I just feel like the urgency of climate change sort of overrides other concerns,” he said. “I think it’s just part of a sacrifice we’re all being called on to make in some way or another for the sake of our future.”
Villager Lisa Abel asked the trustees to “slow down” on the consideration for a recommendation to the county, adding that the issues at hand are “complex.” She cited the potential for local farmers to lease their land for use by solar companies as a way to keep farms financially solvent, and the need for local government to spend more time speaking with “local stakeholders” about their concerns.
“Other places have been able to figure this out, and we’re pretty smart here — I think we can figure this out as well,” she said. “My question to the trustees would be … what are you worried about that you want to address, and can we as a community help address those concerns?”
Following the hearing, Trustees Marilan Moir and Chris Mucher thanked those who had spoken for their participation; Trustee Hollister was not present for the hearing due to illness. The trustees declined to make a motion regarding a recommendation to the Greene County Board of Commissioners for the time being.
“I’m really glad that you got to hear each other today, because it is very complex,” Moir said. “I don’t know how I could possibly make any kind of motion to make a recommendation based on what I see as the beginning of understanding huge issues.”
At the following regular meeting of the board on Monday, Nov. 21, township resident Jennifer Adams asked Moir and Mucher whether or not the trustees had made any decisions about the proposed recommendation; Hollister, still recovering from illness, was not present at the meeting.
Mucher said the trustees are currently in consultation with “legal counsel” regarding SB 52’s “restricted-area language,” should the county prohibit Miami Township’s agricultural land for utility-scale solar use and how permanent any such restrictions might be.
“We’re trying to get a feel for that, so when … we’re satisfied that we have enough, we’ll look at it some more,” he said.
To view the November meetings of the Miami Township Board of Trustees in full, go to youtube.com/@YellowSpringsCommunityAccess.
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