The proposed 585 acres that could become a 101 megawatt solar-power field in Weston and Milton Townships and the Village of Weston is one step closer to reality after a Ohio Power Sitting Board hearing last week.
The public hearing allows sworn testimony to be entered into the official case record to be considered by the Power Sitting Board members. A staff report investigating the application has already been created for the members. It had a number of requirements for Juliet Energy Solar, a subsidiary of Lightsource BP.
This was the opportunity for the public to talk during the Sept. 8 hearing, held at Simpson Garden Park.
Jeremy Schroeder, Weston mayor, said his talking points are not necessarily those of the village residents, the administration or the council.
“As a small entity, we have only a handful of opportunities for growth with the limited amount of revenue streams, especially those that aren’t linked to a direct tax on our citizens and small business owners,” Schroeder said. “Of course we would like to see private and external projects that involve investment into the community so that we can continue to grow our population, both in terms of salary potential and in modest amounts of quantity. This project fits this category, in a few unique ways.
“It increases the land tax revenue on land in a significant way, for the village and the immediate surrounding areas, without severely changing the use of the land. Today it is used for farming corn and beans, and when this project is done, it will be used to farm sunlight — with a greater potential for taxable revenue that isn’t on the backs of our citizens.”
Several others presented their support as well. The increased tax revenue for Otsego Local Schools, employment of local tradespeople and increased sales and profits to local businesses each topped the list of benefits.
Brian Dicken, vice president for advocacy with the Toledo Chamber of Commerce, estimated that more than 200 construction jobs, with 80% being Ohio residents, would be created for the construction.
He also noted the estimated annual $800,000 in tax dollars to local schools and municipalities, which would be approximately 30 times the amount currently generated by the land.
Paul Chamberlin, of Weston, resides in the project area, and was initially against it.
“Rural life is changing,” Chamberlin said. “I might be old, but I support this project fully.”
There were concerns about BP Energy, the parent company of Juliet Energy, voiced by several speakers, including Alina Haas, Weston.
She used the example of a green energy company solar field failure in Medicine Hat, Canada, which she compared to Ohio for the amount of sun.
“Ohio is not the sunniest place in the country,” Haas said. “Texas had a huge energy crisis because of snow on solar panels.”
Her fear was public financial support being due if the company would leave.
Haas also expressed dissatisfaction about 32-foot easements that she said would be required across her property for power line upgrades.
The land is primarily used for crops, but there are 11 homes in the area, which will be at least partially surrounded by the solar panels.
“I’ve been told my property values will decline,” said Steve Espen, Weston.
He was also concerned about the potential for hazardous materials being brought in from Chinese companies.
Norm Heineman, Center Township, was concerned about private property rights.
“We all make decisions on where to live. … We all seem to like wide open spaces,” Heineman said. “I have no problem with solar. I have a problem with taking good productive soil out of production.”
Eugene Naherny was concerned about drainage issues and possible flooding, as well as heat island effects that he compared to a parking lot.
The next step will be an evidentiary hearing held on Sept. 22 at 10 a.m. at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Hearing Room 11 - C, 180 E. Broad St., Columbus. Formal intervenors, including the staff of Juliet Energy Solar, will present testimony to an administrative law judge. A decision will be rendered at a monthly OPSB meeting after the adjudicatory process is complete.