PREBLE COUNTY — Dale Arnold, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Director of Energy Policy, attended the Preble County Commissioners meeting on Monday, Jan. 7, to answer any questions the board might have about proposed solar farm projects coming to Preble County.
In addition to Arnold and the three county commissioners, Kyle Cross from the Preble County Engineer’s Office and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Katie West were also involved in the meeting.
There are two projects currently in the application process for Preble County. While applications have been submitted for both, they are both awaiting their completeness review with the Ohio Power Siting Board. According to Arnold, to get this far into the process, several prerequisites must be met at a cost of half to a full million dollars. Many companies end up quitting the process before they reach the Power Siting Board, due to the cost. The process to get the application approved can take up to 90 days.
Once the application has passed a completeness review, it becomes a legal proceeding. The case is assigned a docket number and two attorney examiners with the power of a judge. Applications and other materials will be presented as evidence. Examinations and cross examinations will take place.
The ability to negotiate stipulations and agreements is part of county government’s role in this process. The entire process is specific to Ohio and is different than other states encounter.
“Their entire application is a judicial procedure for the Power Siting Board. It is a matter of public record, the vast majority of it is. When their applications are filed, you — basically a county government — will be served with a copy of that. Each of the townships where the projects are located will be served with that. There will also be a copy at the library, hard copy for people to examine,” Arnold said.
There will be a local hearing held, where any community stakeholder who is not an intervening party in the case can come and give testimony. There will also be a judicial hearing held, with the attorney examiners and a court reporter present.
Arnold encouraged the commissioners and county staff to have conversations with the solar facility company sooner, rather than later, to determine agreements.
“We have discussed, because some of the things the county is really interested in are ditches, water flow, as well as road usage agreements, those types of things. At what point should we start contacting those people now? Or wait until after the application has been accepted, if it will be accepted,” West asked.
“That is a good question. There is nothing in the law that says you can’t sit down with the company right now,” Arnold said. “You can start talking about needs and requirements for the road usage agreements.”
“What time do you think would give us the most leverage in the process?” Cross asked.
“Any time now in regards to that,” Arnold said.
Commissioner Rodney Creech asked Arnold if they could see additional sites in the future.
“Unless these circuits are upgraded, based on the current infrastructure you have, there is not a lot of space,” Arnold said. “It is a very specific permit. If you were doing a new coal, nuclear, wind, or solar, you are doing the new generation facility. You are hooking into the interstate transportation grid. There is only so much capacity, basically, there that will accommodate you.”
“They are technically looking down and asking where we can fill the lines, that is how they are determining placement,” Creech said.
“That is correct. In the simplest terms from my work with them, yes,” Arnold said.
“So we are unfortunately not full [and could see additional sites],” Creech said.
According to Arnold, there are a limited number of projects which will be able to be installed in this part of Ohio, due to the limited capacity.
Once the applications are deemed completed, the company will have to follow legal procedure and will not be free to discuss the project with the commissioners. After the application is accepted, the hearing dates will be set and the first public notice will be issued within 15 days of accepted application. The Ohio Public Siting Board Investigation will begin, leading to the staff report, which will be released 15 days before the public hearing.
The second public notice will be released seven to 21 days before that public hearing. Then the public hearing will be held near the project location, followed by an adjudicatory hearing near the OPSB offices. OPSB will hold its briefs and reply briefs, leading to the board decision.
Once the certificate is issued, the applicant will be able to apply for rehearing and if the answer is still not satisfactory, they can take the case to the Supreme Court.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH