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Apr
24
2024
Miami Township
Australian company, Lendlease, has been approaching landowners in the rural area between Yellow Springs, Clifton and Cedarville for longterm leases to build a 175-megawatt utility-scale solar array. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Many of those who attended the Monday. Dec. 4 Miami Township Trustees meeting to hear and respond to a presentation from Tax-based solar company Vesper Energy on a on a proposed new utility-scale solar project. (News archive photo by Megan Bachman)

New utility-scale solar project proposed for Greene County

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About 30 local and area residents filled the community meeting room Monday, Dec. 4, during the most recent meeting of the Miami Township Trustees.

Most were in attendance to hear and respond to a presentation from Texas-based solar company Vesper Energy on a proposed new utility-scale solar project that could be mounted in rural Greene County, including in Miami Township.

The proposed project, tentatively called the Aviation Energy Center, comes after the December 2022 Ohio Power Siting Board, or OPSB, denial of Vesper’s previously planned 1,500-acre, 175 MW utility-scale Kingwood solar project, which was also slated to be located in Greene County.

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The presentation was given by Vesper Energy’s Development Manager Hannah Larkin, who oversees both the previous Kingwood and proposed Aviation Energy Center projects, and Community Affairs Manager Lindsey Workman.

Though the Kingwood solar project is still in the midst of a now year-long appeals and rehearing process, Larkin said Vesper Energy is currently “exploring opportunities” in Miami, Xenia and Cedarville townships with regard to the newly proposed Aviation Energy Center project.

Vesper Energy has an interconnection agreement in place with regional electric power transmission system operator PJM, which was put in place ahead of the Kingwood solar project’s design. The agreement allows for up to 175 megawatts to be “injected into the electrical grid locally,” Larkin said.

She added that, though any new project would still be constrained to 175 MW based on the current agreement with PJM, Vesper Energy is allowed “flexibility on siting and design” for a new project.

“The actual size of the Aviation Energy Center has yet to be determined,” she added. “Our goal for this project is to design it in collaboration with our community partners, and that’s why we’re here this evening.”

Revisiting Kingwood

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.

About 1,000 acres of the proposed Kingwood project were slated to be located on unincorporated agricultural land within Miami Township.

In addition to passing a resolution to oppose the project in 2021, the Miami Township 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. A local group, Citizens for Greene Acres, also formed to oppose the project.

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. Many of those present were opposed to the project.

Kingwood’s application was denied in December 2022 after more than a year of deliberation by the OPSB. In its decision, the OPSB cited public opposition to the proposed Kingwood as the main reason for the application’s denial.

Following the ruling, Vesper Energy filed an application for rehearing on Jan. 17, 2023; the rehearing request was granted on Feb. 7. However, in September, Vesper Energy appealed the OPSB’s ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court because the OPSB did not issue its decision on the rehearing request within the 30 days required by Ohio law. The Ohio Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, citing lack of jurisdiction, as the requested rehearing must take place before an appeal can be made.

At press time, the OPSB has not yet scheduled the requested rehearing.

In addition, Senate Bill 52 was signed into law in 2022, which gives Ohio counties the ability to ban solar projects of 50 MW or larger on unincorporated rural land. Though the bill would not affect the Kingwood solar project if it’s approved upon rehearing or appeal, it could affect a newly proposed project.

Township trustees have several times this year discussed petitioning Greene County to declare Miami Township off-limits to future utility-scale solar projects, but have not yet done so. This summer, trustees enacted a two-year moratorium on deciding whether or not to petition restriction of such projects.

Concerns, support for new project

Many of those who spoke at the Dec. 4 trustees meeting did so in support of a new utility-scale solar project in the area.

“I support anything that enables family farmers to continue to farm and to have a steady source of income is just so valuable,” said Theresa Borchers, one of several who said they were favorable to the project.

Several concerns were raised by both supporters and those who oppose utility-scale solar in Miami Township, however. Concerns included the use of herbicides on solar sites, adequate setbacks from roads and natural resources like the Little Miami River and nature preserves and the preservation of agricultural land with prime soils.

With regard to herbicides, Larkin said Vesper aims to use “environmentally friendly” herbicides and could consider grazing sheep as an alternative.

Local resident Sharon Mohler said that, while she believes solar energy is “absolutely necessary,” she questions why large solar projects need to be sited on farmland.

“I don’t see why you don’t plan on putting it on already despoiled land, like quarries and parking lots,” Mohler said.

“We are absolutely interested in exploring brownfield opportunities,” Larkin said in response. “What we’ve found, though, is that they’re [often] not large enough to site really any megawattage.”

Local resident Kate Levesconte later posited that, while solar arrays can put some farmland out of use while they’re activated, they’re not the primary threat to agricultural sites.

“The primary reason we are losing farmland other than climate change is urban sprawl,” she said.

Offering an alternative view of land use was Tecumseh Land Trust, or TLT, Executive Director Michele Burns who said the local land trust has been vocal during discussions around the Kingwood solar project that any proposed solar array should not be sited on the area’s best agricultural land.

“I just want to throw out there that staying away from our prime soils will be, of course, [TLT’s] biggest concern, because not all soil is created equally,” she said. “[Soil] is a finite resource.”

Larkin and Workman said that, after hearing community feedback during the Kingwood solar project’s development, Vesper Energy has committed to 300-foot setbacks for the Aviation Energy Center project on public roads, residential property lines, state parks and public lands.

According to recent setback requirement updates from the OPSB, solar facilities must adhere to minimum setbacks from solar arrays of 50 feet from nonparticipating parcel boundaries, 300 feet from nonparticipating residences and 150 feet from the edge of adjacent pavement or roads.

Larkin added that it’s unlikely the promised 300-foot setbacks would be decreased during the design process if the project’s costs exceed projections.

“What would probably get sacrificed is the production of the facility — so rather than being a 100-megawatt facility that drops down to a 75-megawatt facility because we lost the land to the setback,” she said. “We could write [the 300-foot setback] into a lease agreement and [it would] be legally binding.”

Farmer and former Township trustee Lamar Spracklen, who had previously leased a 65-acre parcel of his land to the Kingwood project, said his largest concern was the rights of property owners to make their own decisions about what to do with their land. Spracklen was critical of the trustees’ opposition to the Kingwood solar project thus far.

“I don’t think it’s right for the trustees, because of their personal opinions, to use taxpayer money — my money — to hire lawyers to fight it,” he said.

In response, Burns later spoke on the necessity of retaining legal counsel when acting as an intervenor, citing TLT’s own role as intervenors to the Kingwood project.

“The only way to have a seat at the table of the [OPSB] is to be a public intervenor,” she said. “[TLT] did not take a stand on the [Kingwood] issue, but we wanted a seat at the table — and you do really need to hire an attorney to be able to do that. So it may be unfortunate that all these townships in the county had to do that, but it is a legal process and you are giving sworn testimony.”

Noting the Township’s role as oppositional intervenors to Kingwood, local resident Scott Fife urged trustees not to oppose a future solar project. He said he was disappointed in the Kingwood solar denial, in part because the public hearing process only took note of people’s support or opposition, and not their reasoning.

“I thought, ‘We’re going to have a testimony, we’re gonna have facts introduced. People are going to be evaluating the arguments pro and con, it’s going to be a rational decision. And it was none of that,” he said. “We had a very well organized opposition group who spoke loudly and often.”

Trustee Chair Marilan Moir said that the trustees have not yet determined whether they’ll weigh in on the new project as intervenors, though she noted that she abstained from a recent vote to continue as intervenors to the Kingwood project. Trustee Don Hollister added that a determination on whether the trustees will be intervenors for the Aviation Energy Center is premature, since Vesper Energy’s new solar project is only in the proposal stage.

“I understand. I’m just encouraging you to try and set an example here,” Fife replied.

The News will continue to follow the proposed Aviation Energy Center project as it develops.

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