SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — A large crowd packed Apollo Career Center to hear about Lightsource bp’s plans for the Birch Solar Project, a 375-megawatt direct-current solar farm to be located on 2,600 acres of farmland in Allen and Auglaize counties.
Some people in the crowd weren’t waiting for answers, though, yelling out “you’re lying” when the project’s CEO spoke. Many people held signs protesting the solar farm.
Vocal crowd members expressed their desire about not wanting a solar farm in their backyards, raising issues about sight lines from their homes, possible lower property values, what happens if the company leaves and what could happen if the solar panels leached.
Lightsource bp CEO Kevin Smith says he was surprised by the welcome he received here.
“We understand that ‘wind’ projects can get a fair amount of pushback. There are noise issues and visual effects that are a lot more significant,” he said. “Solar is very low profile. It’s 8-, 9-feet tall, and that’s it.
“We’re going to put in additional screening as required, and we’ve been rolling out a compensation program for adjoining landowners where they’ll get a payment. We’re just saying because you’re adjacent, you know, we’re willing to make a payment to you. It’s not a pledge of loyalty or anything like that, but we’re willing to do that.”
An estimated 400 jobs will be created during construction. Once it’s up and running, that number dwindles to around 10.
“There’s the leased acreage which was around 2,600 (acres). There’s the fenced acreage, which is around 1,900 (acres), and then there’s the actual paneled acreage, which is only around 900 acres,” said Shanelle Montana, director of development for Lightsource bp.
Those who support or oppose the Birch Solar Project can file a public comment through the Ohio Public Utilities Commission online at j.mp/35HN5vz. The project already had 35 public comments Wednesday night.
Getting the facts out is something Smith said he wanted to accomplish by holding the public meeting at Apollo.
“We’re just really excited to be there. We understand it’s a change for the community, and we want to really dismiss all of the myths and really start talking about how we can work with the community as the change comes in,” Smith said.
Lightsource bp will be conducting two virtual public meetings, one of them at 6 p.m. Friday and the other at 6 p.m. Monday.
Both meetings will start at 6 p.m. and can be heard by calling 877-229-8493, access code 12004. You can also view it online at BirchSolarVirtualPublicMeeting.com.
Lightsource bp has yet to submit an official application to the Ohio Power Siting Board, which will ultimately decide the project’s fate. If approved, the company hopes to have everything operating in the first quarter of 2023.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.