Major solar farm approved for construction west of Bowling Green

·6 min read

Nov. 26—WESTON, Ohio — Energy giant BP is planning to build a major solar farm in rural Wood County next year.

The Juliet Solar Project will be a 101-megawatt solar farm across 670 acres of privately-owned land in the village of Weston, Weston Township, and Milton Township, with a fence built around the perimeter.

About 240,000 solar panels will be installed beginning in mid-2023.

Tiny Weston, which had 1,455 residents in the 2020 Census, is 10 miles west of Bowling Green.

Milton Township adjoins Weston Township to the south.

BP said on its project website that it expects Juliet Solar will generate $890,000 in local taxes, much of which will go to Otsego Local Schools. The two townships and the village of Weston also are receiving tax revenue.

The breakdown, according to Lightsource BP, the energy giant's developer for this project, goes like this:

—$424,000 a year for Otsego Local Schools.

—$40,000 a year for Milton Township.

—$35,000 a year for Weston Township.

—$3,000 a year for the Village of Weston, average. The company said the village will receive $120,000 total over the 40-year life of the project.

Juliet Solar is expected to create 100 to 150 construction jobs during peak construction, BP said.

Although the project has never formally come before village board members, Weston Mayor Jeremy Schroeder said he has spoken in favor of it and hasn't heard much opposition beyond a few residents.

"You shouldn't be turning down any economic development in the area, especially an area like Weston where there isn't a lot of economic development in the first place," Mr. Schroeder said.

Most of what the village receives will likely be used on improving its downtown, he said.

Adam Koch, Otsego Local Schools superintendent, said he expects the district's $424,000 will be offset somewhat by future decreases in state funding.

He said he believes the situation will be better, though, than it was after the Rover and NEXUS pipeline systems made big promises to area schools, townships, and other taxing authorities to help woo support for their projects. Once their pipelines were installed, the two pipeline companies filed separate requests with the Ohio Department of Taxation to have the values of their respective pipelines lowered significantly.

Valuations are what auditors use as a basis for charging property taxes.

"I think it's going to end up being guaranteed money," Mr. Koch said of BP's Juliet Project. "It's going to bring some jobs to the area. It's going to be clean energy."

He said the school district is probably two or three years away from seeing the money and has no immediate plans for it beyond helping to stabilize the district's budget.

Otsego Local Schools have 1,600 students and about 200 employees, about half of whom are teachers, Mr. Koch said.

In its application to the Ohio Power Siting Board, Lightsource BP said electricity generated by the future solar farm will be put in the 13-state regional electric grid operated by PJM Interconnection for sale at wholesale or under a power purchase agreement.

Construction is to begin in mid-2023 and take about a year to complete, according to Raheleh Folkerts, a Lightsource BP senior business partner in marketing and communications.

"The construction timetable submitted in the application [was] a forecast based on the information we [had] at the time," Cliff Scher, Lightsource BP senior director of development, said. "Since then, we have received additional information that has caused the project to update our estimated construction start to mid-2023."

Lightsource BP is a utility-scale solar developer. It became interested in the Wood County project after acquiring 7X Energy of Austin, the former developer which began negotiations, Mr. Scher said.

The Juliet Solar Project is owned by BP, and Lightsource BP has a 50-50 partnership with the London-based BP, a global conglomerate best known for extracting and selling petroleum around the world but now in the midst of a major push toward renewables.

This Wood County project is one part of "a significant step towards BP's target of growing its net developed renewable generating capacity to 20 gigawatts by 2025 and aim to increase this to 50 gigawatts by 2030," Dev Sanyal, BP executive vice president of gas and low carbon, said. "We will now work with Lightsource BP to bring these assets online."

Land has been leased from area farmers and other long-term landowners, starting in 2019.

The fields will be taken out of production during the anticipated 40-year lifespan of the project.

But native grasses and pollinator friendly plant species will be planted beneath the solar arrays, Mr. Scher said.

The land will be returned to its original condition at the end of the project, he said.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation filed a motion to intervene on Aug. 18.

But according to a document filed Sept. 21, the developer came to a quick agreement with the farm bureau on all issues.

Dale Arnold, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation's energy, utility, and government policy director, said the farm bureau doesn't necessarily object to a project when it files a motion to intervene in its proceedings.

In this case, the state farm bureau took no position on Juliet Solar. Its purpose for the intervention was ensuring that construction activities adhere to soil and water conservation principles and that costs for any damages don't get passed on to landowners. It resolved its concerns by convincing the OPSB staff to include multiple conditions that protect landowners.

"OFBF does not intervene in this proceeding in support or opposition to the project at hand. Rather, OFBF's concerns lie in ensuring that if a project of this nature goes forward, landowners and their land are protected and have appropriate recourse for needed repairs or remediation," Mr. Arnold said, citing language in the group's motion.

Five area residents testified before the OPSB about concerns they had regarding property values, the viability of solar power in Ohio, the consequences related to a failed solar farm, potential damage to drainage tiles, the loss of agricultural fields, aesthetics and other potential impacts, the siting board said in its decision.

Another three submitted comments in opposition.

In its report, the OPSB staff said it "does not anticipate significant overall impacts to commercial, industrial, residential, recreational, and institutional land uses," nor does it expect it to impact Wood County land-use plans.

It said the project "is consistent with agricultural industry support" because it will supply farmers with supplemental income and that the land can be returned to farm production upon decommissioning.

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