Commissioners discuss solar facilities

By Kelsey Kimbler -

EATON — Open Road Renewables is working on developing two solar facilities in Preble County, one called the Alamo Solar Facility two miles south of Eaton and the other called the Angelina Solar Facility four miles north of College Corner. ORR Vice President David Savage and Director of Business Development Doug Herling attended the Preble County Board of Commissioner’s meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 16 to answer questions on the projects.

According to Herling, the company is interested in addressing concerns and finding solutions to make the projects more palatable for the citizens affected by the solar facilities. He added, the main concerns he is hearing for the projects are the appearance of the facilities and their usage of valuable farmland in the area.

Currently, the projects are awaiting their completeness reviews with the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB). The entire application for both projects can be found online with the Ohio Public Utilities Commission. Once the application is deemed complete, another review will take place, this time with a time limit of 60-90 days.

OPSB Staff should declare these two applications complete or incomplete in early February. That will set a clock for public hearings, which will take place 60-90 days after the applications are deemed complete. Public hearings will be scheduled for April or May.

According to Herling, OPSB is looking to secure venues for each of those hearings. There will be two hearings in total, one or two weeks apart. The meetings will potentially be held at the Preble County Fairgrounds, but they are interested in holding them at the Eaton High School, in hopes that venue is closer.

These meetings will be advertised in The Register-Herald and letters will be sent to adjacent property owners 21 days prior to the scheduled meeting.

OPSB will be running the public hearings, with a law judge present. Open Road Renewables will be at the meeting, but will not be speaking. These meetings are an opportunity for citizens to comment on the project and share any concerns they might have. Anyone can comment during these meetings, as long as they are not a “Party of Record.”

“Parties of Record” will be able to comment during an adjudicatory hearing, which will follow the two public hearings.

Information shared during these meetings will help OPSB decide on the application. A decision is expected around late summer or early fall of 2019.

Herling added, Open Road Renewables is aware of the comments and concerns adjacent property owners have and in researching the issues, they are considering changing different aspects of the projects, especially concerning the Alamo Solar Facility.

“One of those things is working with Dayton Power and Light to move a substation to a more interior location, farther from homes and with less visibility. That is one of the things we are considering working on. Another thing we are considering, is adjusting our footprint. Some of the maps may look a lot different than what is happening out there,” he said.

“We are looking at how to change things in a way that keeps the project viable, but satisfies some folks with concerns. Similarly, looking at adjusting certain setbacks, with property lines and roads. There might be concerns with crowding a road, we understand that. Also looking at developing a preliminary screening and landscaping plan — that is actually one of the biggest things we’ve heard.”

Based on feedback already received, the company is getting an earlier start on the project as they try to address public concerns.

“I am going to be in Eaton most weeks between now and the end of May. We would really like to meet with anyone who has concerns or questions about these projects. We encourage you to reach out. We will be launching two websites, one for each project, in the coming days,” Herling said.

“We want to make sure everybody is getting the same information. We are here to be a resource. That application is big, it is 500 pages long, but everything about the project is there — about what we plan to do. At the end of the day, what the Ohio Power Siting Board says we can do is all we can do. There is nothing being hidden there.”

There were several in attendance at the commissioners’ meeting who spoke during public participation. The concerns shared included:

•If, after the 30 or 40 year contract, the land will be able to be put back in circulation for agricultural use? What lasting impacts will the solar facility have on the farm land?

Savage responded, OPSB requires a decomposition plan prior to the construction of the facility. Solar projects are a way to preserve farmland and he expects the land to return to its prior use once the solar facility is deconstructed.

•Will property value for adjacent properties decrease?

According to Auditor Lavon Wright, they are unsure whether property values will decrease, as right now the office has no comparable project to these solar facilities. Property values are reevaluated every six years depending on property sales. Once the current period is up, the Auditor’s Office will pull those numbers and project property value for the area. Currently, they have no information to determine if sales are up or down.

•If the company declares bankruptcy, what will happen to the farm? Will it still be deconstructed after its contract time?

According to Savage, the facility will most likely be purchased by another company, as solar projects are very expensive to develop.

•Is Preble County the best place for a solar facility?

•For the farmers leasing the property, will their legal representation be comparable to the company’s?

•Will Preble County be able to utilize any of the energy generated?

•How much revenue will Preble County bring in from this deal?

The project is tax exempt, but the company has to make a payment in lieu of taxes in the amount of $7,000 per megawatt split 80 percent to 20 percent to the affected school districts and townships. An additional amount — up to $2,000 per megawatt — will be offered to the county itself. Gasper, Israel, Dixon, and Washington Townships are all affected by this project, while Preble Shawnee and Eaton Community Schools are the affected school districts.

By Kelsey Kimbler

Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter KKimbler_RH

Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter KKimbler_RH