SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — The group, “Against Birch Solar” held a meeting at Apollo Career Center Saturday, to update everyone on their latest fight to keep a 300-megawatt solar farm from becoming a reality in parts of Allen and Auglaize Counties.
The audience heard from Julie Johnson from Champaign County and Rachael Vonderhaar, Preble County Commissioner, about their experiences with clean energy projects.
“It is actually harder to build a house in Preble County than it apparently is a solar generating facility with OPSB (Ohio Power Siting Board), stepping on the plans we’ve written for our community,” said Vonderhaar. “The local community needs a voice to say yes or no to the conditional utility solar generation facilities that will impact their way of life going forward, their tax burden, health and safety risk.”
Cupp, Huffman views
The group also heard from Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, who are from Lima.
“I am here to listen to concerns, suggestions and apply those to energy policy in the legislature,” Cupp said.
Cupp is well-aware of the Birch Solar project and is watching it closely.
“No application has yet been filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board. There will be public hearings on it (after it’s filed). There should be a public hearing here,” Cupp said.
Lightsource bp indicated during an interview on Friday with The Lima News that it will introduce its plan to the Ohio Power Siting Board this week. Its plans have changed as far as the acreage and scope of the project. Instead of its original 2,600-acre footprint, the project will be sitting on 1,410 acres. There will also be setbacks of 300 feet and cedar fencing with a number of five-foot evergreen trees planted.
Huffman admits there’s not much they can do to stop it.
“One of the things that we’ve decided as a state, creating and transmitting energy is important and it’s too important to keep individual interests from stopping that,” said Huffman. “We have to be able to turn on the lights. We have to be able to heat our homes.”
Huffman says renewable energy is just a small part of the energy solution in Ohio.
“The problem is that solar doesn’t really produce that much electricity. About 90 to 95% of the electricity in the United is produced by coal, nuclear power and now more and more (natural) gas,” Huffman said. “My goal is to make sure the (Birch Solar) project doesn’t go forward,” Huffman said. State Senator Bill Reineke of Tiffin, who is also a member of the Energy and Public Utilities Committee, is sponsoring legislation that would give people a voice as it pertains to the location of Solar and Wind Farms.
The bill would allow electors, like township trustees, to referend a decision by the Ohio Power Siting Board, the agency that approves or rejects the projects like the Birch Solar project. It’s unsure that if this is passed, whether it would apply retroactively to the Birch Solar project.
Solar energy survey
The meeting at Apollo came just three days after a study was released on what Ohioans thought about solar energy.
The survey, which included 750 likely Ohio voters, found that 67% of likely Ohio voters believe it is important to bring new sources of clean energy to the state and the vast majority welcome solar farm development in their community (76%).
The survey company, Purple Strategies, also surveyed 150 voters from Allen, Auglaize, Hancock, Hardin, Mercer, Putnam and Van Wert Counties to see what they thought about solar development.
It found that 59% support solar development and welcome it “in their community”, 15% support solar development “but not in their community”, and 26% do not support solar development projects.
The survey also showed 81% believed “property owners have the right to do what they want with their land.” Only 19% believed the Birch Solar project would be “bad for our state destroying the scenic farmland in our community”.
The survey also showed that 55% agreed with the statement “the Birch Solar project would generate $2.7 million annually for property taxes, helping to spur the local economy and provide funding for schools at a time when we need it most”. Only 45% of those surveyed agreed that “the solar farm will have a negative effect on the local economy by lowering property values and making it harder to attract new families and businesses to the area”.
Jim Thompson, with the Against Birch Solar group, doesn’t believe the survey was done fairly.
“I was one of the people surveyed. The questions asked and the manner in which they were presented were just inherently biased. This is nothing less than a very poor survey spun to prove something that they can not reasonably, and I add honestly, accomplish.” Thompson said.
Thompson points out four reasons he thinks the survey is suspect.
“First, the company who conducted the survey, Purple Strategies, is the very company that managed British Petroleum’s (BP’s) crisis management public relations response during the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig tragedy. Second, Purple Strategies’ implies impartiality by stating in this survey they are a bipartisan public affairs firm yet fails to disclose their involvement and/or role with the ownership of the Birch Solar development. Third, the minuscule number of people surveyed in addition to the tremendous margin of error (7.5%) is nothing short of laughable. Fourth, the questions asked are beyond vague and failed to provide context as to the reason why they were asked,” Thompson contends.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.