EATON — A public hearing held on the proposed Alamo Solar Facility on Wednesday, June 12, was an opportunity for all who have not filed a motion to intervene in the matter to speak on the proposed project.
According to Ohio Power Siting Board Chairman Sam Randazzo, this public hearing was an opportunity to gather information to help the board come to a decision regarding the proposed solar project. Every presentation given by the public was transcribed by a court reporter to later be presented to the Ohio Power Siting Board.
Many spoke for and against the proposed project. The majority in attendance were against Alamo Solar Facility for various reasons.
John Altom spoke on the ways he feels Open Road Renewables has attempted to “push the project through” instead of notifying the community and being open and transparent about the project.
“Open Road Renewables has written in their application that they have been transparent in this process, but I have a few reasons that would contradict that. We know that Open Road Renewables has been soliciting land owners to lease fertile, crop producing ground since 2016. We were notified of their project in November of 2018. In this application, Open Road Renewables references the positive financial impact this will have on our community,” he said.
“In a public meeting in the commissioners’ chambers on Feb. 7, 2019 they stated that the Alamo Facility would be monitored from a separate location and this directly conflicts a statement they had previously made about long term jobs to the area. Following the Angelina Solar Project hearing, Open Road Renewables posted on the Angelina Solar Facebook page, ‘Thank you to everyone who attended last night’s open house.’ This is not an open house, but a legal proceeding. To call it anything but that is very misleading.
“Open Road Renewables wants the Ohio Power Siting Board to think that our community has partnered with them to bring an innovative energy source to Preble County, but we have not done that. We do not know, at this point, what the impact on our tax base will be from this solar facility. Will the Commissioner’s vote to be a PILOT county? What does that PILOT funding look like and how can it be used? You’re being asked to issue a certificate to a project that has submitted an incomplete picture of their intent in this project.
“They intend on collecting federal incentives, all of them that are possible, offering bottom dollar leases to agreements to land owners and building these facilities just to sell them to a company that we do not know who they are or how they are going to keep these facilities running. Open Road Renewables stated on Feb. 7, 2019 that they have no interest in running or maintaining these projects. We are asking the Ohio Power Siting Board to investigate Open Road Renewables’ proposed plan. Don’t be distracted by the great marketing, fancy logos, and lengthy explanations.
“Can this facility produce the amount of energy that it says it can? Will this project add to the money available for services in Preble County? $7,000 per megawatt has been proposed as the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). Is that enough to replace loss tax revenue from the way the land is being re-purposed? Will it be enough in 20 years after there has been inflation added to our economy? This is the type of transparent communication we are looking for.”
Kendale Hamilton talked to those in attendance about the loss of 1,928 acres of farmland to the two proposed solar facilities in Preble County. He argued, these solar projects are turning neighbors against neighbors, farmers against farmers. He stated, the installment of solar power plants in rural communities must be halted due to their negative effects on the environment, the value of agricultural land, and the disadvantages to the community.
“Solar farms do in fact harm the environment. One aspect of their environmental impact is their use of toxic chemicals during production,” he said. “There is also the possibility for environmental contamination if any equipment was improperly disposed upon decommissioning or damaged while on service on the farm land. Contamination could affect surface and ground water in the surrounding area.
“This brings up another point of why solar farms are not good for our environment: the manufacturer of these solar panels are responsible for their disposal or recycling once they are decommissioned. As of now, many solar panels end up in landfills at the end of their life cycles. Researchers with the Electric Power Research Institute did a study on solar panels, included that disposal in regular landfills is not recommended in case these panels break and cause a toxic material to leak into the soil.
“There are so many issues involved with disposal, that could leave devastating effects, not only on rural communities, but in other communities as well. Before putting solar power plants in rural communities, it is necessary to analyze and evaluate the potential impact. Nowadays, everyone is worried about small plastic straws causing issues in the environment, but what could a massive solar panel do?”
Other concerns included:
•Drainage tiles already in use in the land to be used for Alamo Solar Facility and the proper maintenance of them.
•Property values decreasing on neighboring land.
•The use of fertile agricultural land for a solar facility. Many questioned why use farm land when there is a need to feed a growing population. They argued, we should be focusing on increasing ag production, instead of decreasing it. There are other ways to get energy, but not food.
•The implementation of a solar facility in Ohio, where it is not as sunny as other states.
•Long term effects of deteriorating solar panels and the upkeep of the facility.
•Open Road Renewables has not provided an appropriate decommissioning plan for the solar facility.
•Wildlife traffic changing due to the fences around Alamo Solar Facility and the effect that will have on neighboring farms and crops. Many also questioned the safety of their livestock being close to the solar facility.
•Potential fires caused by the solar facility and how to respond in an emergency situation. They also questioned, with the recent tornadoes, how extreme weather will effect the facility and how emergency personnel should plan to respond.
While many spoke against the proposed solar farm, some spoke in favor of the project.
Jason Baker is a business representative with the Operating Engineers Local 18. He spoke in favor of the Alamo Solar Facility, stating the operating engineers can only benefit through this project. He explained, they are individuals who operate cranes, backhoes, bulldozers, and other equipment. Most roads and bridges in the area have been constructed by Local 18 and fellow union trades men and women. They also perform work related to the energy field.
“If approved, the men and women of Local 18 can look forward to being involved in another great renewable project that would help pay for our benefits package as a healthcare, retirement, and training while earning their wages. The Alamo Solar Farm has the potential to create over 900 construction related jobs for the state of Ohio if approved. Of the construction related jobs, 297 would be a direct impact for Preble County alone,” he said.
“Approval of the solar farm would also add much needed renewable energy sector of Ohio. We encourage of OPSB to join us in supporting the Alamo Solar Farm and approve their application.”
Other comments in favor included:
•Change being inevitable in the area and the solar farm being turned back into farm land at the end of its lifespan.
•Some claimed that misinformation has been spread throughout the process and stated the Solar Farm would be a benefit to the area.
•Many referenced property owner rights and stated that farm owners had the right to lease their properties to solar farms if they so chose.
•Solar facilities are green, clean, renewable energy.
•Farming is a business and for many it made sense to lease their business to the solar facility for the time being.
•Jobs and money will be coming back to Preble County from this project.
There will be an adjudicatory hearing held on June 26 at the Offices of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio at 10 a.m. However, the hearing will be opened for the purpose of taking appearances of counsel and testimony from members of the public who are present, before adjourning to reconvene on July 17.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH