Letter: Can we believe in Birch solar?


The public needs to know about the past costly failure of Mr. Smith as he lays out his vision for the proposed Birch solar project.

In March of 2013 Mr. Smith told the U.S. Speaker of the House:

• “Crescent Dunes is a success story and will be a tremendous achievement for U.S.-developed technology and the U.S. Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program.” The $1 billion Crescent Dunes project was to be the biggest solar plant of its kind and the developer was SolarReserve. Mr. Smith served as the CEO of SolarReserve.

As Bloomberg Businessweek reported regarding the Crescent Dunes project on January 6, 2020:

• “SolarReserve may have done its part, but today the company doesn’t rank among the winners. Instead, it’s mired in litigation and accusations of mismanagement at Crescent Dunes, where taxpayers remain on the hook for $737 million in loan guarantees. By the time the plant opened in 2015, the increased efficiency of cheap solar panels had already surpassed its technology, and today it’s obsolete—the latest panels can pump out power at a fraction of the cost for decades with just an occasional hosing-down.”

Mr. Smith’s initiatives involved significantly risks that contributed to the failures of SolarReserve, according to the Bloomberg article. The company ceased operations in 2019. SolarReserve received $737 million in loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy. Mr Smith joined Lightsource BP as the CEO in 2019.

Mr. Smith now proposes a high risk initiative to place a 2,600 utility scale solar project in Shawnee. Not one large scale solar facility is in a township with a population as large as Shawnee. Allen County with a population of 102,000 is the 26th largest county in Ohio. In regards to county size you need to go down to the 45th largest county before you see a solar facility within the county. Large utility-scale solar facilities in Ohio as well as the entire nation are located in low-density population areas.

The proposed Birch project stands out as being an outlier when you consider the large size of the project relative to the population density of of the impacted area. We must stop Mr. Smith before he commits another costly failure.

Mark Wellman, Shawnee Township

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