Giant solar operation proposed in Greene County moves a step closer to state approval

·3 min read

Jun. 19—A giant utility-grade solar operation proposed for Greene County has moved one step further in the state's approval process and the solar company and the community are preparing for next steps.

Texas-based Vesper Energy, formerly known as Lendlease, has plans to develop more than 1,500 acres of farmland in Miami Twp., Xenia Twp. and Cedarville Twp. in eastern Greene County into a solar farm. Vesper Energy plans to call the development Kingwood Solar Farm.

Vesper filed an application April 16 and on Tuesday, the Ohio Power Siting Board ruled that the application was complete. Vesper will host a public meeting at 6 p.m. June 29 at the Greene County Expo Center in the dining hall, located at 120 Fairground Road in Xenia where it will offer information on the proposed project and answer community questions.

Greene County staff plan to attend the meeting as an interested party.

County Administrator Brandon Huddleson has said the county will likely file to be an intervener in the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) process. An intervenor does not need to take a stance on a project to be involved. Greene County commissioners are scheduled to meet with their attorney to discuss intervening in the process on July 1.

Miami Twp., Cedarville Twp. and Xenia Twp. have all filed to be intervenors in the case. The Tecumseh Land Trust and a farming operation under the name In Progress LLC have also filed to intervene, according to OPSB documents. In Progress LLC farms 15 acres of land that would be adjacent to this project.

The Ohio Power Siting Board makes the final decision on a solar project. The county does have a say when it comes to considering a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program. PILOTs provide a consistent, guaranteed yearly payment from the company to the county for the life of the project. That would be done instead of taxing the facility, which would also generate annual payments but those would decrease over time as the facility's equipment ages.

Huddleson said he will recommend commissioners not accept the PILOT program. Additionally, none of the commissioners said they would be in favor of approving the program. According to an estimated tax revenue analysis prepared by Kingwood Solar, the county would collect about $49 million in taxes without the PILOT from 2021 to 2050. With the PILOT, the county would collect about $45 million in that same time period.

There are about 25 Ohio solar projects pending or in the pre-application phase with the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), which is the body that approves these large energy projects. These projects are in various stages of development across the state. About 10 projects have been approved and a few are currently in construction.

The Greene County project would run along Clifton Road and Wilberforce-Clifton Road near John Bryan State Park and Glen Helen Nature Preserve. Vesper Energy has secured long-term leases with 17 land owners in that area.

Now that the application has been deemed complete, the Ohio Power Siting Board will set a procedural schedule for the case, including dates for the staff report of investigation, the local public hearing and the evidentiary hearing. During the staff investigation stage, the siting board staff scrutinizes the plan, visits the site, issues data requests to the developer and then makes recommendations to the board members in a report.

After the siting board staff files this report, the local public and adjudicatory hearings are held. These hearings allow citizens, interest groups and governmental entities to present testimony.

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