SOLAR FARM: Neighbors fire off questions; Developer asks, ‘hear us out’ … and speculation grows


By Josh Ellerbrock - jellerbrock@limanews.com



A Shawnee Township trustee meeting had to be moved to Shawnee Alliance Church on Monday in order to accommodate the large group of residents who wished to voice their concern about the proposed Birch Solar Project.

A Shawnee Township trustee meeting had to be moved to Shawnee Alliance Church on Monday in order to accommodate the large group of residents who wished to voice their concern about the proposed Birch Solar Project.


Jim Thompson voices his concern with a proposed Solar Farm proposal in parts of Allen and Auglaize Counties.

Jim Thompson voices his concern with a proposed Solar Farm proposal in parts of Allen and Auglaize Counties.


COMING MONDAY

A Facebook opposition group has swelled to more than 700 members as the push-back moves quickly to a proposed solar farm in parts of Allen and Auglaize counties. On Monday, The Lima News looks back at the events of the past month and what’s ahead.

LIMA — Roughly 60 residents attended the Shawnee Township trustee meetings to talk about a new solar project in town last Monday.

Resident Jim Thompson was the first to stand at the podium to kick-off the night.

“I’m a resident of Shawnee Township and one of many within our community who is opposing this industrial solar energy development, better known as the Birch Solar Project,” Thompson said. “I’m here tonight to address you, our elected officials and share mine and many others within our community’s concerns as well as make few inquiries to you, the trustees.”

In subsequent days, those against the 300 MW solar farm have rallied — creating signs, organizing petitions and submitting public comments — and Lightsource bp CEO Kevin Smith said that his company hasn’t even had a chance to answer their questions despite efforts to present to the group at that meeting in the days prior.

As for the group’s problems with the solar farm project, they vary widely. Their concerns can be pulled directly from the state’s public comment database on the project along with Lightsource bp’s responses:

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

“I am a resident in the middle of the BP solar industrial wasteland that is projected to be in Shawnee Township Allen County — Logan Township Auglaize County, which is a terribly irresponsible project with extreme future dire effects to the environment, ecology, economy and to the neighboring residents who are also concerned about property devaluation and where those natural protected species of Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Woodpeckers, migrating Canadian Geese’ flocking will be severely desecrated and come to their demise.” — Resident Ann Fisher

“I am against birch solar power surrounding my property with panels and fences. Not only does this impact the quiet, serene, peacefulness of country living this community loves and cherishes, it also impacts many other things including the wildlife my children have grown up watching!!” — Resident Stephanie G.

Response:

“We have a preliminary plan for the boundaries of the solar farm. However, the exact boundaries and location of the solar panels has not been decided. Setbacks from homes and landscape plans to plant hundreds of trees to screen the solar farm from neighbors’ views will be finalized as Lightsource bp works with the residents over the next year.” — Mary Grikas, Lightsource bp spokersperson

The need for environmental impact and stormwater runoff studies is required by the state in order to approve the project, according to the Ohio Revised Code. In other words, a project can’t legally get approval without them.

Currently, Lightsource bp is in the pre-application process, or the earliest stage in can be, with the state. It could take up to a year before the project is approved.

Also, the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a vote on the Ohio Power Siting Board, which is responsible for giving any energy project generating more than 50 MW a green light.

Other complaints like Fisher’s have repeatedly mentioned the danger to wildlife. These concerns have largely been exaggerated compared to everything else that kills animals in the region, such as the destruction of actual animal habitats by human development. The ODNR estimates less than 10% of land in Allen County remains in its natural state.

Lightsource has also made promises not to cut down any trees as part of the project.

NO MORE FARMLAND?

“This area is home to some of the best farmland Ohio has to offer. This is not ‘brown fields’ where other solar projects have had success, but rather fertile, top-producing farmland. Land that will be taken out of production for a minimum of twenty years. With solar being such a new industry, there is no guarantee that this land will be viable farmland after the lease periodhas ended.” — Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Mescher

Response:

“Lsbp’s landowner contracts have provisions that require Lsbp to decommission the project at the end of its life and hold a bond or other financial security. Decommissioning activities will be completed in such a way that the land can return to agricultural activities. The salvage value of the equipment (largely glass and steel) is viewed as greater than the cost of decommissioning.” — Mary Grikas, Lightsource bp spokersperson

LOCAL BENEFITS

“We take great pride in our community and school system and we don’t want to see it destroyed by big business. It will only bring jobs during installation and then only sustain possibly 10 employees. Who does this energy benefit? We want answers and we will strongly fight against this.”

Response:

“During the 14-16 month construction period, the Birch Solar Project is estimated to create 400 direct jobs during construction along with an additional 400 indirect jobs. Per an Ohio University study, for every direct construction solar job, one additional job will be supported in the state economy. In addition, if a payment in lieu of taxes is granted, the project is required to maintain a minimum ratio of Ohio-domiciled full-time equivalent employees employed in the construction or installation of the project to total full-time equivalent employees employed in the construction of installation of the project. For solar energy projects, the minimum ratio is 80%, and for other energy projects, the minimum ratio is 50%. Apart from the PILOT requirements, Lightsource bp typically employs that level of local labor across the country.

“During the operational life of the project, Lightsource bp will have an operations budget of $4.6 million per year to maintain the facility and the land.” — Mary Grikas, Lightsource bp spokersperson

Out of that $4.6 million, $2.7 will be paid out annually to public entities if a PILOT (payment of lieu of taxes) is approved. Over the 30-year-lifespan of the project, $4.05 million would go to Apollo, $43.74 million to the school district, $13.77 million to the county and $19.44 million to the township. Breakdowns are due to property tax millage rates.

PROPERTY VALUES

“This solar project is a very bad idea for this area. They are proposing to put fields of solar panels right into neighborhoods and next to many existing homeowners when it will have a dramatic effect on out properties.” — Roger Buzard

Some studies have shown that property values can be affected by a solar farm largely depending on a property’s proximity to a facility. On average, Lightsource bp has offered roughly $10,000 per landowner to those most adversely affected. The exact amount for each property owner can vary significantly, however, depending on the placement of arrays in relation to a property.

THIS WEEK

Those at Lightsource bp have been watching the local opposition to their plans grow, and this week, company representatives will be coming to the region to talk to residents in more detail about their plans.

Three events are planned:

• Monday: The group in opposition to the project will be having an organizational meeting (7 p.m. at Shawnee Alliance Church).

• Wednesday: Lightsource bp will be presenting on the project at the Apollo Career Center, 3325 Shawnee Road, Lima. (6-8 p.m.)

• Friday: The first official public meeting will be held online.

A Shawnee Township trustee meeting had to be moved to Shawnee Alliance Church on Monday in order to accommodate the large group of residents who wished to voice their concern about the proposed Birch Solar Project.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2020/11/web1_solar1-1.jpgA Shawnee Township trustee meeting had to be moved to Shawnee Alliance Church on Monday in order to accommodate the large group of residents who wished to voice their concern about the proposed Birch Solar Project.
Jim Thompson voices his concern with a proposed Solar Farm proposal in parts of Allen and Auglaize Counties.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2020/11/web1_Solar-Farm-2-4.jpgJim Thompson voices his concern with a proposed Solar Farm proposal in parts of Allen and Auglaize Counties.

By Josh Ellerbrock

jellerbrock@limanews.com

COMING MONDAY

A Facebook opposition group has swelled to more than 700 members as the push-back moves quickly to a proposed solar farm in parts of Allen and Auglaize counties. On Monday, The Lima News looks back at the events of the past month and what’s ahead.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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