SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — Lightsource bp has made several revisions to its plan to build a 300-megawatt solar farm in parts of southern Allen and northern Auglaize counties, according to information released Friday by the company.
Chief among those changes to the proposed Birch Solar, which company officials say were made after receiving input from stakeholders, farmers, government officials and community members, is a reduction in the overall footprint of the project.
The total amount of acreage now deemed necessary for the farm, including all solar panels, has been reduced by the company from its original 2,600-acre planned plot to a maximum of 1,410 acres, with no ability to expand in the future.
Lightsource bp officials also announced the project will now feature required 300-foot setbacks from any solar panels visible from Breese Road or from any home within the project area. The setbacks will be part of any permit application and will be maintained as green space during the project life, officials said.
Chanel Montana, director of development for Lightsource bp, said during a telephone interview Friday that the company has worked hard to make the project attractive to the local citizenry, despite organized opposition to the project.
An organized group, Against Birch Solar LLC, has been actively seeking to turn away the project, citing fears of reduced property values, environmental concerns and other objections. That group will hold another meeting from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, although it’s reached its capacity for in-person viewing and can be viewed online instead. Invited guests include Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman and Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp.
“I think most people do want us there, and it’s our responsibility to tweak the layout to accommodate the concerns of the community,” Montana said. “In the last couple of weeks, we’ve done extensive environmental studies and melded that together with feedback we’ve gotten from the community to make a much more consolidated project.”
She said the project will be formally submitted to the Ohio Power Siting board next week with the updated footprint.
Proposed changes to the project also include the erection of a 6-foot high cedar post farm fence around the project, with 5-foot evergreen trees (8 feet tall at maturity) and shrubs planted outside the fenced-in areas.
Montana said the aesthetic enhancements were added to the project in response to “requests from the community surrounding the project to screen and set back the project from home and roads and to minimize changes to the natural environment. Our approach is to work with the local community and neighbors to ensure that we develop and construct our projects as a good neighbor and long-term member of the local community.”
Other revisions touted by the company include:
• The creation of pollinator habitat to boost local biodiversity and foster wildlife habitat.
• A $500,000 community fund for Allen and Auglaize Counties for use in connection with various programs to be recommended by the community.
• An enhanced Neighboring Landowner Benefit Program to provide financial compensation to homeowners whose properties border leased land or whose homes are within 500 feet of the project’s solar panels.