LIMA — Lightsource bp laid out an array of details during its first official public information meeting Friday night to help answer questions posed by a group in opposition against the 300 MW Birch Solar Farm project.
The solar developer spent roughly an hour and 15 minutes in an extensive presentation laying out its plans for the project, including details on a sheep grazing-program planned for the site if approved by state. But callers listening in on the meeting still had plenty of questions.
Property values came up a few times from those listening into the online meeting, and Lightsource bp officials answered with an explanation of how they are planning to create 300-foot setbacks and plant screening areas to help dampen those effects. Payments ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to adjacent land owners are also being given to those who live next to the project.
Project Lead Shanelle Montana also explained that some concerned landowners may not even be that close to any arrays as the project’s footprint is still be decided.
“We are currently finalizing our layout so exactly where those panels will go is not known right yet,” she said.
A 2018 study from the University of Texas at Austin explored property value impacts as it relates to solar installations, but authors said that survey results from residents near utility-scale projects provided differing opinions. Some analysis suggests that close proximity could create negative impressions of a solar farm’s impacts.
Another repeated question was: Why is a solar development going so close to a “densely populated” area like Shawnee Township?
Those with Lightsource dived into an point they had made earlier in the call. In trying to find a place for the project, they emphasized four factors: a close substation, open agricultural land, willing landowners and an electrical grid with spare capacity.
“Ultimately, this is an agricultural area that has landowners that are interested in this and they are our partners for us,” Montana said.
Out of the many participants in the meeting, Jill Barnes made some of the more impassioned points. As she relayed concerns one after another, the panel of Lightsource experts couldn’t get much of any answer in to address her questions — which jumped between concerns of birds lighting on fire, destroyed historical connections to Tecumseh and Johnny Appleseed, a loss of farmland, stranding a young family among arrays of solar panels, the dangers of toxic chemicals, the effects of solar radiation and a lack of benefit payments for everyone in the county.
“When are you going to move into the middle of a 2,600-acre solar field and tell us how much you like it?” she asked Lightsource bp CEO Kevin Smith.
“There’s no risk to individuals. It’s well proven. It’s clean and quiet,” Smith said.
“I’m done with your lies,” Barnes said before exiting the meeting.
The public meeting continued throughout the night, crossing the three-hour mark and gaining momentum as the Q and A session continued and those in opposition began to question past projects and Lightsource’s history.
For those unable to attend Friday’s informational meeting, a second online public meeting is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.