The Evening Leader
Government opposition has weight with OPSB
Senior Siting Specialist James O’Dell has filed testimony on behalf of the Ohio Power Siting Board staff ahead of a May 18 evidentiary hearing with concern for the public outcry regarding the Birch Solar Project.
The OPSB staff report originally found the applicant failed to establish the nature of the project’s probable impact on cultural resources and the location of abandoned oil and gas wells. While those issues have been rectified, they have failed to establish whether the facility would serve the public interest convenience and necessity.
By comparison, a 300 megawatt project in Highland County has been moving forward with recommended conditions, not a recommended denial as in Birch’s case.
O’Dell notes that several governmental bodies have filed to intervene including Shawnee and Logan Township Trustees, as well as the Bboard of County Commissioners of Auglaize County.
Both Allen and Auglaize County commissioners have approved maps restricting large scale solar development. Allen County commissioners took note of that in a letter to the board, explaining that if it weren’t for grandfather provisions in Senate Bill 52, the Birch Solar project wouldn’t be considered.
Shawnee Township Chairman Clark A. Spieles is quoted in a letter writing, “Projects of this size are not suitable for areas abutting residential properties in any jurisdiction.”
Staff recognized the
entities opposing the project “have responsibility for preserving health safety and welfare within their respective communities.”
“Therefore their interest in and in this case strong opposition to, the project is especially compelling,” O’Dell writes.
OPSB staff said local opposition is common in many siting projects but that opposition in this case has been “especially prominent, one sided and compelling.”
Calling the discussion one-sided may be less than accurate. While the Against Birch Solar group has been vocal at every turn, the project does have its supporters.
Michael Wildermuth of the Allen Auglaize County Coalition for Reasonable Energy cited environmental concerns and energy independence. He also provided more than 250 area names and addresses of people who agreed with his stance in supporting the projects
Coalition member Frank Caprilla testified over the course of 334 pages about the financial benefit the Payment In Lieu of Taxes would bring to area schools, especially
Shawnee Local Schools, adding about $1 million annually to the schools revenue.
The project is taking into consideration OPSB conditions. Lightsource BP project Director Shanelle Montana in her testimony said they are implementing 300 feet setbacks and offering payments for neighboring homes within 500 feet of panels. Montana said a $500,000 community fund would also be created for Allen and Auglaize counties.
Board staff, according to O’Dell’s testimony, believe any benefits to the local community are outweighed by overwhelming public opposition.
There have been numerous conditions recommended, including a fence that fits in better in a rural environment and allow the passage of small wildlife.
Conditions also limit construction times and noise, and minimize impact to wildlife and vegetation.
Staff are also recommending conditions protecting neighboring parcels from damage to drain tiles from the project.
This had also been a concern for the Auglaize County commissioners, who are frequently involved in ditch petitions.