LIMA — After Lightsource bp announced its intention to create a utility-scale solar farm in southwest Allen County, the push-back was immediate.
In just under two weeks, a Facebook opposition group swelled to 700 members (and counting), and last Monday, roughly 60 of them ended up requesting Shawnee Township trustees to voice the board’s opinion on the project.
The result was a resolution, which noted: “The Shawnee Township Board of Trustees find that there is a lack of unbiased impact studies on land, wildlife, drinking water and human health to permit such a project in Shawnee Township.”
Meanwhile, 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 the proposal.
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, 4450 Shawnee Road.)
• Wednesday: Lightsource bp will be presenting on the project at the Apollo Career Center, 3325 Shawnee Road. (6 to 8 p.m.)
• Friday: The first official public meeting will be held online from 6 to 8 p.m.
Here’s a rundown of the last month as this story has evolved.
Throughout 2020: Lightsource bp representatives began contacting local landowners in the area to gauge their interest in leasing property for a 300 MW utility-scale solar farm array after recognizing untapped capacity in the local electrical grid.
Early development work begins to ensure the return will be worth the investment, and the annual budget for the 30-year project is set at $4.6 million. Initial investment to construct the project is estimated at $337 million.
Oct. 16: Local officials began to hear of the Birch Solar Project, and Lightsource bp representatives scheduled meetings to discuss their intentions. Meanwhile, letters were sent to various properties near the intended project to let neighbors know about an early informational session introducing some basic information about the project.
The Ohio Power Siting Board, which rules on energy projects that produce more than 50 megawatts, received a request from Lightsource bp asking to be able to hold its first round of required public meetings online because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Oct. 27: An informal informational session hosted at the OhioMeansJobs building lasted roughly five hours as Lightsource bp’s CEO Kevin Smith and project developer Shanelle Montana fielded questions. They explained the general plan behind the $337 million project to set up solar arrays covering roughly three square-miles.
Media outlets also received word about the project. Details were relatively sparse, but the reason for this was a simple one, said Lightsource bp spokesperson Mary Griska. She explained the project is still in its development stages, which is confirmed by state documents.
Lightsource bp’s request for an online public meeting was also granted by the state.
Nov. 3: Lightsource bp filed a notification letter with Ohio that let the board know the same details they had presented to the public a week earlier. It’s the start of a nine- to 12-month long process with the Ohio Power Siting Board.
Nov. 6: Jim Thompson and other concerned residents formed a Facebook group, Lima Ohio Birch Solar Industrial Project. Over the weekend, the group swelled to more than 500 members, and the momentum continued throughout the next week. Thompson also had a guest column published in The Lima News voicing his concerns about the project.
Online, Thompson released a “presumed” map of the project using a simple schematic he said he pulled from a public notice printed in The Lima News by Lightsource bp.
The area shown on the map is noticeably bigger than the 1,900 acres Lightsource bp said would comprise the project. Smith, CEO of Lightsource BP, clarified the published map isn’t the final outline of the project, but is rather the general envelope of where the project could be as the designs are still being finished. The exact sites where arrays will sit are still being considered, and any impact studies to be a part of the company’s application to the state are still being finalized.
Nov. 9-10: Roughly 60 members of the community attended a Shawnee Township trustees meeting on Monday to discuss the project. Smith said he initially had planned to present during that meeting, but his plans changed when trustees told him there would be no public meeting on that date. By Monday morning, however, a public meeting had been set up, and Smith said he had already made other plans for the day out of state. Smith ended up sharing information about the project in a guest column in The Lima News, which was published Tuesday.
During Monday’s meeting, Thompson asked trustees for their stance on the project. They explained their own concerns, especially the project’s lack of details, such as the necessary impact studies.
Either way, trustees move forward and voice their opposition to the project via a resolution, which was sent to the county.
Nov. 12: Allen County commissioners fielded dozens of calls from concerned residents requesting that commissioners voice their opinion of the project. The commissioners told residents they have little to no role in the approval process. They hold a meeting with Auglaize County commissioners to confirm as much, and discuss some of the finer details related to how the state considers and reviews solar farm projects in general.
Online, the opposition group starts pushing for a concentrated political effort to oppose the project, which includes yard signs and sending out information to those who live nearby.
Thompson also asked Lightsource bp to change the dates of its public meetings, alleging the meetings were scheduled near Thanksgiving to discourage attendance. As the solar developer was unable to do so, the opposition group responded by denying Lightsource bp access to a meeting it scheduled for Monday, Nov. 16. Smith said members of the group opposing the project are no longer returning any calls from Lightsource employees.
Thompson filed a public comment with the Ohio Power Siting Board, claiming online meetings are discriminatory. His complaint is filed at a time when many local governmental bodies continue to meet on online platforms because of the dangers associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
In response, Lightsource bp announced plans for its own Wednesday night meeting to present a 20-minute overview of the project and to answer questions from the audience.
Nov. 20 and 23: The first online official public meetings are scheduled for Nov. 20 and Nov. 23, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Jan./Feb. 2021: Lightsource bp is required to submit its official application to the state 90 days after it holds its first public meeting. The Ohio Power Siting Board process is expected to take up to a year.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.