Column: Why Solar, Why in Ohio, and Why Now?


Kevin Smith - Guest Column



I’m Kevin Smith, CEO of Lightsource bp in the U.S., a solar energy company planning a new project about 10 miles southwest of Lima, named Birch Solar. Solar energy projects are being built across America and have been proven to be safe. They are a home grown, low-priced addition to our country’s energy mix that contribute to our energy security.

Solar can also bring tremendous economic benefits to the Lima region through generation of tax revenues, local jobs, operating expenditures, and overall investment in new energy technologies. New tax revenue from Birch Solar will stay local and bring millions of additional tax dollars to schools and other community services.

Here are some details about Birch Solar: We have been evaluating the project for most of 2020 and discussing with local landowners interested in leasing their land for solar. Many farmers who host a solar project have not chosen to give up farming completely, but have chosen to take some acreage out of agricultural production for renewable energy. For some, this helps diversify against shifting commodity prices, allowing them to sustain the rest of their agricultural production. For others, income from hosting solar can be a viable source of additional revenue for future generations.

Birch Solar itself is still in the early stages of development, but we decided to start discussions with local officials, and sent out mailers to more than 200 nearby residents with preliminary project details along with an invitation to a five-hour open house, which was held in Lima on Oct. 27th. We had over 75 local community members attend. I was there myself, along with our project team to answer questions and meet some of the neighbors.

The project will go through a lengthy seven- to nine-month permitting review with the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) in 2021. We have not submitted our permit applications yet as we are still finalizing the project details and preliminary engineering. In developing our technical layouts, we will preserve existing trees to integrate with the surroundings, maintain natural screens and existing bird and bat habitats. Our landscape plans include planting hundreds of additional trees to screen the solar farm from neighbors’ views, and provide additional habitat for wildlife. These plans will be finalized as Lightsource bp works with residents over the coming months. A full suite of environmental surveys are being conducted at the site, along with state and federal wildlife regulatory agency consultation, to understand and conserve sensitive natural resources.

In addition to an estimated $81 million in local taxes paid by the project over the project life, the Birch Solar project is expected to create 400 direct jobs and an additional 400 indirect jobs during a 12-14-month construction period. We expect 80% of the on-site construction staff will be permanent Ohio residents local to the area. As an example, we’re currently building a similar solar project in Texas that has 320 workers on site, with 84% of them local residents who permanently live within 60 miles of the jobsite.

We estimate final engineering completion and start of construction will be in the fourth quarter of 2021 or early 2022, in a year or more. We’ll be hiring a general contractor for the project, but have not yet started that bidding process.

We have two upcoming virtual public information meetings that we’d like to invite everyone in the greater Lima community to attend, one on Nov. 20 and another on Nov. 23rd, where we will present more information about the project including the timeline, studies being conducted, safety, preliminary engineering, and the OPSB process. After the team presents, there will be an hour-long Q&A session where the community will be able to ask questions and talk live with the team. A recording of the presentation will be up on our website, as well, and we’re happy to have meetings with anyone who has further questions, or wasn’t able to attend any of the public meetings. For more details about the project, as well as the public information meetings please see www.lightsourcebp.com/birch.

Solar energy is projected to bring significant economic benefits to Ohio – a study by Ohio University projects billions of dollars in economic impact and tax revenues to rural Ohio counties, see https://www.ohio.edu/voinovich-school/news-resources/reports-publications/utility-scale-solar. The world’s energy supplies are advancing into new technologies – cleaner, cheaper, and more local. More and more solar is getting built in the U.S. because it makes economic sense, creates jobs and tax revenue, and provides for a sustainable future.

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Kevin Smith

Guest Column

Kevin Smith is the CEO of Lightsource bp in the U.S.

Kevin Smith is the CEO of Lightsource bp in the U.S.

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