Lightsource bp may appeal Birch Solar decision

SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — Executives from Lightsource bp on Thursday said the company will be “exercising all options to move the (Birch Solar) project forward” after the Ohio Power Siting Board rejected its application to construct a 300-megawatt solar farm in Shawnee and Logan Townships.

Shanelle Montana, vice president of development for Lightsource bp, said in a statement Thursday evening that the OPSB “ignored the project support” from local residents and that the board “appears to have favored the opinion of local government bodies” over residents.

The company has 30 days to appeal the decision.

The solar farm, which would have been built on about 1,400 acres of farmland in Allen and Auglazie counties, was expected to produce enough energy to power 55,000 homes per year, or every household in Allen County.

Lightsource bp signed an agreement last year to sell power produced by the Birch Solar farm to Amazon, contingent upon the OPSB’s approval.

The project quickly became controversial, culminating in Thursday’s OPSB decision, which cited “unanimous and consistent opposition” from local elected officials.

Still, supporters from the grassroots Allen Auglaize Coalition for Reasonable Energy criticized the OPSB’s decision Thursday, claiming the board “misinterpreted their public interest requirement” to use as a “political tool to deny” the Birch Solar project.

“Our local elected officials are going to have a difficult time selling taxpayers on any new taxes after they worked to deny local residents of as much as, by their own estimates, $100 million in new revenue generated by this project,” Michael Wildermuth, manager of the Allen Auglaize Coalition for Reasonable Energy, said in a statement Thursday.

“This is a deeply disappointing outcome for local taxpayers and for those who would choose not to miss the opportunity locally to do something positive for our environment and for our grandchildren,” he said.

Read the full statement from Shanelle Montana, vice president of development for Lightsource bp

”Over the last two years the Birch Solar team has worked hard with the community to create a model solar project in Allen and Auglaize County. While in the Allen and Auglaize community, we heard from Shawnee parents who were advocating for better schools for their children, farmers who were nervous about the variability of commodity prices and nature, and trade workers who wanted jobs in their local community – not just job creation in Columbus. Residents of the Shawnee community and school leaders were relieved to learn about the $94 million in investment Birch Solar would have provided for their community. This investment would have reduced the need for tax increases and additional future levies. Landowners were excited that they would be able to keep their land in the family with the steady income from Birch Solar. Local electricians were excited about the hundreds of local jobs for local workers that Birch Solar would bring.

In conversations with local residents, greater setbacks were introduced from homes and roads and the project was screened by adding thousands of trees. Every detail was carefully considered: the use of farm type fencing instead of industry typical chain link, keeping the land in agricultural production through sheep grazing, recycling 100% of end-of-life solar panels. The Birch project went beyond any currently constructed solar project in the state and set a new standard for responsible solar.

Unfortunately, the OPSB board decision ignored the project support which is in testimony from the local Allen and Auglaize country residents, including support from local union leaders, and the fact that there were no intervening residential groups or individuals in opposition of the project in the OPSB hearings. The OPSB Board appears to have favored the opinion of local governmental bodies, many who did not engage in the hearing process or/and did not intervene in the project, over the needs and desires of the residents. Sadly, this political focus removes jobs, environmental benefits, infrastructure investment and economic development from Allen and Auglaize County.

Birch Solar will be exercising all options to move the project forward.”