By Tammy Watts
GREENVILLE – The Darke County Board of Commissioners held a special evening meeting Feb. 28 at Greenville Middle School. The purpose of the forum was to gather feedback on the proposed Painter Creek Solar project, and citizens were invited to make impact statements, no longer than three minutes. More than 100 people attended and of the 30 Darke County residents who spoke, 28 were against the plan.
The most pressing concerns reiterated by speakers throughout the evening included the loss of prime farmland and flooding. The potential for destroying the tiles of the approximately 300 poles per acre that would be driven to support the solar panels, weighed heavily on the minds of residents, especially those who collectively have already invested more than $80,000 to solve the problems of water runoff. Displacement of wildlife, particularly federally protected bald eagles, which have been sighted in the proposed project area, was another environmental concern, along with the possibility of chemical leaching from the panels into aquifers and the noise pollution from inverters. Homeowners also cited falling property values, due to proximity to solar panels and the loss of the scenic beauty of Darke County they enjoy from their patio or while driving in the countryside.
Many have taken issue with Apex Clean Energy’s practices of securing “good neighbor agreements”, which subsequently prohibit signatories from speaking out against the solar project, and that the company has set no clear process as to how. how the solar panel will be decommissioned in 30 to 40 years. .
“We’re the guinea pigs here,” said Connie Smith, a member of the Darke County Citizen Preservation Association, whose Facebook page now has 1,200 members.
For John Beard, the crux of the problem is local control. He explained that the community would have no influence on “mitigation techniques to prevent watersheds, ecosystem protection for wildlife or pollution prevention protocols”, among other aspects of the operation. Beard also warned that Apex was looking to sign a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with Darke County, as it has done in other communities. The Painter Creek Solar website says the estimated tax revenue for the county would be $1.1 million per year, for the duration of the project. According to Beard, however, 165 megawatts, taxed at the correct rate, should generate $4.3 million in revenue. “This would save Apex Clean Energy nearly $87 million over 30 years, but would cost the citizens of Darke County,” he said.
Several other speakers pointed out that local schools would lose $7,000 per student if families moved because of the solar project.
Eldon Erdmann was lighthearted when he asked the commissioners for permission to read a statement from a citizen who could not attend the meeting.
“I let one in,” Commissioner Matt Aultman replied, referring to a previous letter read by proxy, “so I have to let yours in too.”
“It’s kind of like Apex; once you leave one, we have to leave another, and another,” Erdmann joked. Landowners in Monroe Township and North Rossburg have begun receiving letters inviting them to sign leases with Nebraska-based Tenaska and Sunpower by esaSolar.
When Apex field manager Tyler Fehrman approached the microphone, audience members wondered if the meeting was supposed to be specifically for Darke County residents. After a brief discussion between the commissioners, Larry Holmes advised that this was a public meeting and that Fehrman would be allowed to speak.
“This is an economic opportunity that will create jobs, power for the grid and generational wealth,” Fehrman said, saying he was speaking on behalf of many people in the community, who would be fearful. to speak out in favor of the project, due to harassment and intimidation by opponents. After speaking, Fehrman left abruptly, without addressing any of the concerns raised.
Joni Jones cited the failures of former President Barack Obama’s clean energy incentives. “All of these companies are now bankrupt,” she said, alluding to fears that Darke County would be left to clean up Painter Creek Solar, if Apex went bankrupt.
Solyndra, a solar panel company, collapsed in 2011, leaving taxpayers liable for $535 million in federal loan guarantees. Abound Solar, another solar cell company, received $400 million in federal loans in 2010, only to file for bankruptcy in 2012, abandoning its facilities. Additionally, the company failed to clean up 100,000 solar panels and 4,100 gallons of toxic waste.
Jones also took issue with Fehrman’s statements, retorting that “we already have generational wealth; they don’t bring us anything that we don’t already have here en masse. We are blessed.”
Evan Weaver, 23, represented the younger generation of farmers. “I like to hunt, farm and don’t want to stare at solar panels all my way down Jaysville St. Johns Road for the next 30 to 40 years,” he said. The project would impose limits on hunting, as it is forbidden to shoot weapons near solar panels.
Despite Fehrman’s allegations of bullying and harassment, Wilma Niswonger spoke out in favor of the project. “I can do with my property whatever I want,” she said, adding that in her 70 years as a Darke County resident, no one had asked her about building the property. ethanol plant or other developments that are now within view of his house.
His son, Mark Niswonger, agreed. “I have a lot to gain from this; I am the next generation and I am not a farmer. He added that he didn’t understand all the “pessimism” in the community. “Maybe there are things I don’t know about, and I need to research,” he admitted. As the meeting adjourned, participants, including the Niswongers, lingered to continue the discussion and exchange information.
There was a large law enforcement presence, including Darke County Sheriff Mark Whittaker and several sheriff’s deputies, as well as officers from the Greenville Police Department. The commissioners had requested patrols to provide security at the meeting. “We thought it was prudent,” Commissioner Mike Stegall said. “We thank them for coming, and there were no problems.”
Apex is expected to submit a formal application for the Painter Creek Solar project to the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) in late summer or early fall 2022.
Contact Daily Advocate reporter Tammy Watts at [email protected]