LIMA — Perry Township residents met with Allen County Commissioners on Thursday to discuss a possible new solar project coming to the area.
Neighbors Against Big Solar (NABS) brought their concerns about the Belltown Power Solar Project. The details of the project are still sparse, and no formal application has been submitted to the Ohio Power Siting Board, but residents are trying to make their voices heard before the project officially gets off the ground.
The issue of solar development in Allen and surrounding counties is not a new one, as a decision on the Birch Solar I project in Shawnee Township also looms large.
“What we’ve understood from some of our neighbors that have big solar, Hardin (County), talking with some of the good folks over in Shawnee Township about Birch, we don’t want to be out of the loop of information,” said NABS organizer and Perry Township farmer Mark Sidener. “We don’t want to wake up and see a bulldozer coming through cornfields and erecting 10-foot fences with high definition cameras, and really harboring us from having our freedoms as either individual farmers or property owners.”
The unregulated nature of renewable energy in Ohio allows companies to operate differently from other businesses, paying out landowners in exchange for building on their property. Sidener said that there is a place for renewable energy, but he wants to see it be done in the right way.
“When most businesses or new entities want to come into an area, they’ll talk with the commissioners first, they’ll talk with regional planning first. Large industrial solar does not do that,” he said. “If you look at some of the other wind and solar farms that are in the area, what they promise, the landowners are leasing on. It’s just not what they follow through with, in the end.”
The project would likely be more regulated than previous green energy projects that have come in the past, as it would have to follow the rules of Senate Bill 52. The bill becomes law on October 11, and will allow county commissioners to designate areas where wind and solar farms can and cannot be built.
“I think one of the many things we’ve learned through the Shawnee (Birch) project is the inability to have much say on the local level,” said Allen County Commissioner Cory Noonan. “So I think having that more local ability to look at these and be able to assist where they may make sense and where they don’t make sense is good. I think that will be good for our local governments to work together on.”
With SB52 not yet in effect, Noonan said that the commissioners have not started drawing the lines to regulate solar yet, but that the county is working with their legal team to determine when the process can begin.
Reach Trevor Hubert at 567-242-0398