New 415-acre solar energy field planned for Sidney


Transmission, upgrade costs to add $3.4 million passed to energy consumers

By Shannon Bohle - sbohle@aimmediamidwest.com



SIDNEY — A new 58.8-megawatt solar project is being explored for the Sidney area, east of Pasco, which could be up and running by July 1, 2022.

PJM, which is only responsible for evaluating the technical aspects of the solar project, and not the site selection, was unable to provide many more details at this point.

“The name of the developer is confidential until interconnection service phase is filed and posted, and only then would the name of the developer be included in those documents,” said Jeff Shields, PJM Media Relations manager and spokesperson.

Right now, its anyone’s guess who the developer is and if they have leased or purchased the land already.

“We often find large energy users directly contract a portion of the new power projects, like a city purchase power agreement or large tech companies,” said Matt Schilling, director of public affairs for the Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) and the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB). “A notable example of on-site generation is Marathon in Findlay which has their own wind turbine.”

Known only as “Shelby 138KV,” the planned project would interconnect with The Dayton Power and Light Company (doing business as “AES Ohio”) at the Shelby 138 kV substation. Assuming a 5 to 7 acre per megawatt ratio, the project would have a footprint of approximately 300 to 415 acres of land along state Route 706, approximately one mile east of Pasco and north of Fairlawn Schools. While the exact lot and address is not yet available from PJM, its location is anticipated to be 2.09 miles (75.26 degrees northeast) away from the Shelby County substation, according to a map image provided in PJM’s published impact study.

PJM covers a 13-state region where power plant owners competed against one another, so it is likely that competition is a key factor for maintaining confidentiality early on in the process, said Schilling.

The developer selects the land and often makes a deal with a landowner, said Schilling, and only when the developer files with the OPSB is that information made available to them.

Schilling explained the approval process in greater detail.

“Being in the PJM queue, this is just a preliminary step. In terms of how many go on, some projects could be approved by PJM and then just stall there. In fact, only 18 percent of PJM’s project applications actually end up getting built, and even after receiving construction approval by the OPSB, some projects never get built,” Schilling said.

The anonymous developer for “Shelby 138KV” completed and filed their feasibility study in July 2020 and their impact study in February 2021. Because they completed their impact study prior to the Oct. 11, 2021 enactment date of Senate Bill 52, the project will be grandfathered into the old law which requires the developer to notify impacted land owners and local government at least 90 days before filing its application with the OPSB, said Schilling.

According to County Commissioner Tony Bornhorst, “We’ve had very little conversation about Senate Bill 52 so far. Nobody has approached us officially, but Senate Bill 52 requires a public meeting, and we will schedule one after someone contacts us.”

Senate Bill 52, which was sponsored by Senators Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, and Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, requires that in order for the project to move forward, it must be subjected to the county commissioner’s approval. The goal of the legislation was to increase community awareness of planned large (utility-scale) solar and wind energy projects that are 50 megawatts or greater and bring the community into the discussion by increasing input from local property owners early in the process.

The new bill requires that a developer who completes their impact study on or after Oct. 11, 2021 notify the county at least 300 days (as opposed to 90 days) before it seeks approval from OPSB. This is, in part, to provide the community with enough time, should they choose to, to establish “exclusion zones” where no wind or solar projects can be established — a process that is decided by holding a referendum.

Schilling noted the “Shelby 138KV” project does not yet have an application on file with the OPSB. It therefore has not been grandfathered into other aspects of Senate Bill 52, namely the addition of two ad hock members from the local community who will need to be added to the regular seven voting members on the OPSB.

Schilling explained the OPSB is “a quasi-judicial board much like a panel of judges, and simple majority works.”

“With two of the nine votes,” Schilling said, “local community representatives will have the ability to shape the process on whether to give the order to certify the project.”

The community is also empowered to take additional steps, should they oppose a project.

“Formal interveners represented by outside attorneys or country prosecutors can also act as legal representatives and take legal action. Local government can pass resolutions stating their position as being formally against a project. It is all entered into the case record that the OPSB reviews and takes into consideration when deciding if the project is a good fit; that is, does it fit ‘the public need, convenience, and necessity,’ the OPSB is looking for.”

Just because a project makes its way to the OPSB, does not infer it will pass easily, said Schilling, citing two Seneca County examples: the Republic Wind project and the Emerson Creek project.

“In the case of the Emerson Creek project there were geological formations called karsts, which made the land prone to sinkholes, so the OPSB rejected portions of it for eight specific wind turbines,” said Schilling. “We have also seen cases, like with denial of the Republic Wind project, where a community’s input made a difference with its near-unanimous opposition. So local communities do have a voice.”

Schilling notes that sometimes people in the community have concerns about potential health effects of solar or wind power projects.

These arguments, however, are not likely to hold a lot of sway.

“The U.S. EPA has a certification program for solar panels in which they have examined them for any toxic chemicals in the solar panel components and the EPA found no evidence of this. In terms of electric and magnetic fields (EMFs), there have been no conclusive and generally-agreed-upon health dangers,” said Schilling.

In a previous story, Ohio House Rep. Craig S. Riedel, who also worked on Senate Bill 52, noted land rights were a key element to this legislation, while Midwest Electric’s CEO Matt Berry noted the extreme costs associated with the transmission upgrades for solar and wind alternative energy sources, saying they are “totally unrealistic.”

In the instance of “Shelby 138KV,” for example, the upgrades will cost nearly $3.4 million.

“When any power plant puts its energy onto the grid, PJM decides when they run to meet demand. PJM will tell power plants to run electricity to the grid and call on the cheapest first—which are, overall, wind and solar—and this is done at the wholesale level. But costs flow down and are eventually passed on to customers,” Schilling said. As far as what those costs will be, that depends on the supplier, and in Ohio, suppliers are deregulated.

According to the “Shelby 138KV” feasibility and impact studies completed to date, the attachment cost for the solar energy supplier to connect with the energy grid is estimated to be $15,000, plus an additional $3,375,00 in new equipment expenses that would include P&C, communications, and metering functions, as well any necessary physical structures and facilities upgrades. (A list of line upgrades and their associated costs are provided in the feasibility and impact studies).

In addition to the information on the PJM website, the OPSB maintains maps of the various proposals they received.

Transmission, upgrade costs to add $3.4 million passed to energy consumers

By Shannon Bohle

sbohle@aimmediamidwest.com