LIMA — County commissioners want residents to know: They have nothing to do with approving, or disapproving, solar farms.
Commissioners from Auglaize and Allen counties held a joint meeting Thursday to discuss the role that counties play when it comes to the process of considering utility-scale electric generating projects. By the end of the meeting, their legal counsel made it clear. It’s a state matter.
County Commissioners Association of Ohio Legislative Counsel John Leutz explained that counties do not “terminate or authorize whether (a project) is allowed to be built.” Instead, the one role the county does play is if an alternative energy project, such as a solar farm, decides to seek “payment in lieu of taxes” after the state approves of such a project.
“Folks have heard that we support this. They heard that we have some kind of financial interest in this. There’s been a lot inaccuracies out there,” Allen County Commissioner Beth Seibert said. “We’ve tried to put forth a pretty standard statement that there is nothing that has gone ahead for us to approve.”
Instead, it’s the Ohio Power Siting Board that makes the final decision. Comprised of state directors of major agencies, the board is tasked with giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to any energy producing project that generates more than 50 megawatts of electricity. In the case of the Birch Solar Farm project proposed for southern Allen County, Lightsource bp is looking to generate 375 megawatts DC, which correlates to 300 megawatts AC.
Currently, that project is within its earliest stage — the pre-application process — with the siting board. Next steps include holding a number of public meetings to hear local concerns, and then Lightsource bp has up to 90 days to finish their application with the state.
The state then has another 60 days to review the application for its completeness before agency staff begin a two- to three-month investigation to double check the details. The entire process before the board votes on a project takes nine to 12 months.
It’s been less than a month since the company filed its first document with the state.
During a recent public meeting held last Monday night, Shawnee Township residents have already made it clear they have no desire for the project. Concerns centered around the lack of details.
Again, Lightsource bp has said there’s a lack of details because they’re still in development stages.
“It is early in the process,” Lightsource bp CEO Kevin Smith said. “We are not looking to rush this through. The Ohio Power Siting Board doesn’t let us rush this through.”
Siting Board Spokesperson Matt Butler confirmed as much.
“We’re still early in this process. In terms of our review at the board, no one has missed anything,” Butler said.
Either way, Shawnee Township Trustees have already made their decision on whether they want it or not, and they sent a resolution to the county stating their position.
“After meeting personally with Lightsource bp, listening to the testimony from our residents, reviewing information and investigating similar projects, the Shawnee Township Board of Trustees find that there is lack of unbiased impact studies on land, wildlife, drinking water and human health to permit such a project in Shawnee Township, Allen County. Furthermore, the financial projections, are merely that, projections.”
Lightsource bp is the largest solar farm developer in Europe, and it is jointly owned by the multinational oil and gas company bp.
If its project is approved by Ohio, the company has said that it will bring in $2.7 million in annual tax revenue to the area over a 30-year period. Adjacent property owners are also being offered over $1 million in total by the company for being close to the installation, and Lightsource bp has said that it will create a $500,000 community fund to be used by other organizations in the area.
If approved by the state, the actual solar farm would take up roughly three-square-mile area in both Allen and Auglaize counties. An earlier map prepped by the farm’s opposition group is roughly twice the size of where the solar arrays will actually be located.
“The envelope identified is larger so they can move it around a bit,” Smith said. “We’re moving things around to mitigate the effects on neighbors, and that’s going to continue until we complete the final design.”
More information on the solar farm and the resulting push back will be available in Sunday’s newspaper.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.