Ohio Power Siting Board denies solar project for first time

solar panels hillcrest ohio
A solar array in Ohio. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

The Ohio Power Siting Board denied the application for a 300 megawatt solar farm in Allen and Auglaize counties at its Oct. 20 meeting, citing local opposition to the project.

This is the first time in the board’s history that it rejected a proposal for a utility-scale solar facility.

The project, called Birch Solar 1, would have covered about 1,400 acres about 10 miles southwest of Lima, Ohio. Birch Solar was developed by Lightsource bp, the renewable energy wing of the multinational oil and gas giant BP.

Birch Solar was not subject to the new public input process created last summer by the signing of Ohio Senate Bill 52, which granted local governments control over where renewable energy projects are built. Birch Solar was in the state’s approval queue before the law went into effect and was grandfathered in.

Nevertheless, local, county and state elected officials all registered their strong opposition to the project. 

Local elected officials with Shawnee and Logan townships passed resolutions opposing the project. The Allen County Commissioners signed correspondence expressing concerns about the project. They also passed a resolution restricting the development of renewable energy projects in unincorporated parts of the county. 

State Senate President Matt Huffman, whose hometown is Lima, and state Rep. Susan Manchester also wrote in opposition to the project. 

Several citizens’ groups organized fought against the project. A majority of witnesses testifying at the public hearing opposed the project, and of 450 public comments docketed in the case, about 82% were in opposition. Those opposed to the project brought up a variety of concerns, including lowered property values, doubts about the quality of jobs created by the project, conserving the community’s rural character and impacts to wildlife.

Ohio Power Siting Board technical staff issued a report in 2021 recommending the board deny the project.

Lightsource bp indicated it may appeal the decision. The developer has 30 days to ask the board for a rehearing. If the board again rules against the developer, Lightsource bp can then appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The company said the solar farm would create $2.7 million in new annual revenue for schools and local government, as well as 400 jobs during the construction phase. The energy produced by the facility would be sold to Amazon.

The decision to deny drew criticism from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, as well as a local group that supported the renewable energy project.

Paul Neff, a farmer and member of the Allen Auglaize Coalition for Reasonable Energy, said the Birch project would have supplied his family with a steady stream of income from his family’s land, allowing them to “compensate for the variability of commodity prices and nature.

“With the steady income from Birch, we would have been able to keep the farm in our family for at least a couple more generations,” he said, in a statement. “Now what? We’ll have to do something and some of those options are likely to be less agreeable to our neighbors than landscaped fields of solar panels.”

Battery storage

Also at the board’s Oct. 20 meeting, the board approved the first standalone battery energy storage site in the state. The Flint Grid project was given the OK to construct a 200 MW battery storage site on 15 acres in Licking County’s Jersey Township. The Flint Grid project will cover 15 acres in Jersey Township in an industrial development near the New Albany International Business Park.

The power siting board also authorized Pleasant Prairie Solar to build a 250 MW solar farm on about 2,400 acres in Franklin County. Harvey Solar, a 250 MW solar farm, was also approved. It will cover about 2,600 acres in Licking County. The battery energy storage site will buy energy from AEP during times of low demand and dispatch energy during times of peak demand.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at 724-201-1544 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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