XENIA — Residents packed Assembly Hall at the Greene County Fairgrounds Tuesday to give Greene County Commissioners their thoughts about a proposed solar farm.
One by one, they paraded to the microphone during the town hall meeting, speaking for and against a solar farm coming to the county. The Kingwood Solar Project is a solar-powered electric generating facility created by Texas-based Vesper Energy. The proposed farm would be placed on 1,500 acres between Yellow Springs and Cedarville, most of which is currently in agricultural use.
Commissioners scheduled the town hall strictly to seek input.
“The purpose of this meeting is to hear from you,” Commissioner Dick Gould said.
Bob Huston was first to speak and passionately let his feelings be known.
“I think that the proposed solar project of agricultural nature is completely outside the realm of agriculture,” he said. “Individual rights of land owners are lost and need to be reconsidered.”
Frank Gilbert was also opposed to the idea.
“It is truly not a good idea,” he said. “These solar panels are not environmentally safe.”
David Rich was concerned that the the solar panels would be too close to historical landmarks, potentially ruining them.
“Step back and have some wisdom when looking at planning of the project,” he said.
Jean Weyandt said home values would be reduced if the farm is approved.
“Being surrounded by machinery will have a negative impact on my home value,” she said. “It would destroy the view from our homes.”
Jill Morris owns two properties on Wilberforce-Clifton Road including a farm. She said she is concerned about the effects of the solar project on her farm property. Morris feels that the project would destroy her family’s farm as she knows it.
Terry Fife was among several who said residents will not “benefit locally from this.”
Fife and others said they feel that Vesper Energy is only out for profit.
Not everyone in attendance was against a solar farm.
Xenia resident David Bruce, a Greene County Career Center Alumni with an electrical background, sees at least one potential positive out of the solar farm.
“If the project goes through, I would like to see Greene County Career Center students and Greene County residents be a part of building it,” he said.
Jane Sweet is the fourth generation owner of a family farm. She is in favor of the project and turned the issue into something that could be used for educational purposes.
“This could serve as a science project for schools,” Sweet said.
Other residents talked about the negative effects on birds, bees, deer, and other wildlife in the environment. Another major concern for some residents is the effect tornadoes would have on the solar project. They opined that Vesper would not handle the clean up process and it would be left to the residents.
The Kingwood Solar project is designed to be a 175-megawatt facility, and is expected to generate approximately 360,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year. This is enough to supply electricity to approximately 33,800 households, roughly half the households in Greene County.
According to County Administrator Brandon Huddleson, the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) has the final authority on whether the project is approved or denied. However, the commissioners have the power to intervene in the approval process in its initial stages — a power they plan to exercise.
The commissioners also have the authority to approve a PILOT program, or “payment in lieu of taxes.” As solar panel infrastructure is taxed as personal property, the value can depreciate over time, lowering tax revenue. A PILOT program would cause Kingwood Solar to be taxed at a flat rate, generating more than $1.5 million in revenue for every year of its operation. However, the commissioners do not plan on taking this option.
The project is currently in the pre-application phase with the OPSB. Vesper plans to submit its application to the OPSB this month.
Reach Darryl McGee at 937-502-4534. Greene County News reporter London Bishop contributed to this story.