ANNA — Anna residents had the chance to learn more about a proposed solar energy project during a Shelby County Farm Bureau policy meeting on Wednesday.
The meeting, which was held in the Anna FFA classroom, was free to all Farm Bureau members, with a $10 fee for non-members.
Dale Arnold, director of energy development for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, led the meeting.
“I’m probably going to leave you with more questions than answers tonight,” Arnold said. “That’s fine — this is the start of a conversation.”
The topic of conversation focused around the proposal by EDF Renewables — a French-owned energy company — to build a 200-megawatt solar panel farm on a 2000-acre area of farmland in Anna.
The proposed boundaries of the project run from state Route 29 to the railroad tracks in Swanders, and from Meranda Road to Fort Loramie-Swanders Road.
A representative of EDF Renewables held a meeting for local farmers last month during which the project, labeled as the “Honda Solar Project,” was introduced to area residents.
This project title left many attendees under the reasonable impression that Honda was involved in the planning and prospective execution of the solar farm. However, Senior Communications Specialist of Honda Manufacturing Corporation Inc. Stephanie Gostomski told the Sidney Daily News that this is not the case.
“Honda is not involved in the proposed solar generation project near Anna that has been referred to by its developers as the ‘Honda Solar Project,’” she said. “While we support renewable energy and have installed both solar and wind generation at our facilities in Ohio, we have asked the developer to no longer use our name to promote its project.”
According to Christian Hollenkamp, senior right of way agent for Contract Land Staff, who has been contracted by EDF Renewables to help with securing the land necessary for development, the project title is simply based on its location to Honda.
“It just happens to be in the area around Honda,” he said. “The name was chosen because my client chooses the name of the project based on the name of the (electrical) substation they would be using. At this time, there is no involvement, but there is opportunity for them to join if they are interested.”
In order for EDF to carry out the project proposal as it is currently outlined, a lease would need to be acquired through Honda, as a small portion of the 2,000 acres of interest is owned by the company. EDF would also need explicit permission to plug into the aforementioned substation, as it is also owned by Honda.
As for residential land, Hollenkamp said he has been in contact with 13 to 15 land owners within the project area. He said, at this point, one owner has signed a lease to allow solar power development on their land.
Of the rest of the land owners in question, Hollenkamp said several are on the fence, while some are firm in their opposition.
“I’ve had two people who said, ‘Get off my lawn,’” he said.
Although having the support and involvement of all land owners within the project area would be ideal, it is not completely necessary, Hollenkamp said. As long as enough of the owners sign leases allowing development, easements can be made to connect solar panels through and around the land of those who choose to remain uninvolved.
During Wednesday’s event, Arnold stressed to attendees the importance of fully understanding any proposed lease prior to signing.
“You need to take your time,” he said. “You need to be able to discuss things among yourselves and talk to some of these energy service providers with regard to dialog and planning, and you need to be able to address issues.
“Some of you are excited about projects like this,” he continued. “While some of you still have pressing questions, which need addressed.”
Arnold also talked about the fact that with energy service providers entering communities across the state, and country, with the intent to market “long-term, intermediate, and short-term power delivery contracts” to residents, eminent domain does not apply.
“Your ability to negotiate is much larger,” he said. “The opportunities are there; the responsibilities with regard to that are much more serious than you might think.
“You are going to be seeing a lot happening with energy development going forward,” he continued. “You are going to be asked to make a number of key decisions for your home, your farm, and your business.”
Arnold recommended the consultation of legal advice when it comes to making these decisions.
“Legal counsel is huge,” he said. “I always say, go to the legal counsel that’s been working with your family for generations; they’re always the first and best place to go because they understand you.”
However, Arnold noted that it may be necessary to contact an attorney who is specifically familiar with energy rule regulation and law.
Along with owners of land who have been approached by EDF representatives regarding the signing of a contract, there are several homeowners and residents within the project area who have voiced their own concerns.
Bern Nagengast, resident of Anna, pointed out the possibility of damage to tile drainage, which removes excess water from soil below its surface. He said this was not addressed at the initial presentation by EDF Renewables.
“(They) don’t know where those tiles are,” Nagengast said. “If you start putting all those pilings down, you’re going to be cutting those tiles like crazy.”
Kelly Edwards, of Anna, owns a home nearly in the center of the proposed project area. Her main concern, along with the possibility of drainage issues due to damaged tiles, is the chance of declining property value.
“When we drive, even to our property, we’re going to be driving through thousands of acres of solar panels,” she said. “It’s beautiful farmland, and when we purchased the house, that’s what the expectation was because it’s been farmland for generations.”
The Sidney Daily News will continue to provide updates on this project as it materializes.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.