Giant Kingwood Solar operation opposed by Greene County commission

Oct. 28—XENIA — Greene County commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously to formally oppose a giant utility-grade solar operation proposed for 1,500 acres between Cedarville and Yellow Springs.

Though the vote was unanimous, some commissioners expressed they would still support the project under specific circumstances. Commissioner Tom Koogler said he would support the project if it followed the county's land use plan.

"I am not against solar," commissioner Tom Koogler said. "Going forward we need to be consistent with how we apply the land use plan. If this would fit the criteria of our land use plan, I would be supportive of this project."

An application for the Kingwood Solar operation was filed in April with the Ohio Power Siting Board, which will ultimately approve or deny the facility's construction. In August, the commissioners passed an amendment to its land use plan, titled Perspectives 2020, which outlines criteria for proposed solar developments, some of which the Kingwood project does not meet.

Per the amendment, the criteria for "limited utility-scale renewable energy systems" include being set back from roads and parcel lines by at least 300 feet, not occupy more than two percent of land outside the Urban Service Boundary for each township, and must not be within viewing distance of any cultural, historic, or recreational resources in Greene County.

Kingwood Solar is located within 300 feet of 4-H Camp Clifton, and within five miles of Clifton Gorge, Clifton Mill, and John Bryan State Park.

The commissioners added that property rights of the landowners involved played a part in their decision. Kingwood Solar acquired long-term leases from at least 17 area landowners to build the solar farm on their property.

"We have property owners on both sides saying 'you shouldn't tell me that I can't lease this,' and you have other property owners saying 'hey, it's my property and it's getting challenged or damaged by what you're doing on yours.'" Commissioner Rick Perales said. "I could argue either side of this. I tried to even it out, make sure the facts were out there."

Perales added that he believed there was still an opportunity for compromise between the parties involved.

"I believe there is still an opportunity there to give to both sides a little bit and bring this thing a little bit closer," Perales said. "I will support this project and work with my colleagues to make the best out of it."

Jane Sweet, a landowner who has leased part of her farm to Kingwood, views the solar utility as a way to preserve the farmland for the future, and spoke in favor of the solar facility at the commissioners meeting Thursday.

"All this land, 50 years ago, used to be farmland. Farmers have to sell off, it's nothing new. My daughter and her family, they'll be taking over after I kick off."

Though the commissioners have no power to approve or deny the project, the Ohio Power Siting Board has previously said it would take the commissioners' position into account, based on the passage of Ohio Senate Bill 52. The bill, which gives local governments a say in utility-scale renewable energy development, went into effect Oct. 11, however the Kingwood Solar application was not grandfathered in under the new rules.

Kingwood Solar, owned by Texas-based Vesper Energy, is a 175-megawatt solar array operation expected to generate approximately 360,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year. Kingwood seeks to build the facility in Greene County because of its ideal sunlight conditions for solar development, land availability, and proximity to the electric grid.

Ohio Power Siting Board staff are expected to make a recommendation, which includes the commissioners' input, by the end of this week. The next public hearing for Kingwood Solar is Nov. 15.

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