The Union County Commissioners are working on a plan that would prohibit future solar farms in the county and they want to hear from the public.
The commissioners proposed legislation that would declare the entire unincorporated area of Union County as a “Restricted Area in which the construction of any economically significant wind farm, any large wind farm, and any large solar facility is prohibited without further action by the Union County Board of County Commissioners”
Several solar farms already planned for the area, however, would be allowed to continue.
The commissioners have set a “special session” for 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb 22, 2022 “to consider” whether to create the restricted area. The meeting is scheduled to be held in the commissioners’ hearing room in the County Office Building, 233 W. Sixth St., Marysville, though officials have said that because of public interest, it could be moved to the building’s auditorium.
In July, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation allowing county commissioners to create zones where certain solar and wind electricity generation facilities would be prohibited.
The legislation, however, also allows projects that are already in are in the power network’s new service queue, have received their system impact study from power networks and have paid the application fee by the effective date of the bill to be grandfathered in.
Matt Schilling with the Ohio Power Siting Board, said both the Acciona project, a 325-megawatt solar farm on nearly 3,400 acres of contracted land in York and Washington townships, and the Invenergy project, a 275-megawatt solar-powered electric generation facility on about 5,100 acres south of Route 47, between Yearsly and Storms roads and north of Route 347, are already through the process. The Samsung solar farm, planned near Richwood, could also be grandfathered if it meets certain requirements before the county approves a restricted area.
County Commissioner Chris Schmenk has said there has not been a decision made about creating a restricted zone.
“There is a spectrum of choices and I really hope to hear from residents and township trustees what they want to see in their area,” Schmenk said.
Schmenk said there could be several trains of thought about where to site future solar and wind projects. She said areas that already have a wind or solar farm could be added so they do not reach a saturation point. On the other side, she said there is the idea that it is best to keep these facilities isolated in one area that already has them.
Schmenk said she likes the approach taken by Highland County that would create restricted zones, based on the desire of the township trustees. As part of the request, the trustees need to show documentation that both the property owners and the public entities that would benefit from the farms are opposed.
Earlier this year Commissioner Steve Robinson said he is “leaning toward excluding the entire county.”
He has said the county needs to “preserve the farmland,” calling it “one of the assets of the county.”
He stressed there are many ways to produce electricity but farms are the only way to produce food, so there needs to be mechanisms to keep farmland from being developed, regardless of the property owner’s wishes.
Schmenk has said she wants more information and to hear from residents “before I make a decision on that.”
Schmenk said the commissioners have not yet met with the local school districts, though “we want to hear from them because it does mean additional money for them if these come into the area.”
In the past, Robinson said he has spoken to individual school board members.
Schmenk said that regardless of what the commissioners ultimately decide to do, it is important that they look at options thoughtfully because the county has become an area of strong consideration for solar farms.
“Because of all of this activity, that is what is ultimately driving us to really take a look at what we want to do – do we restrict them, do we reach a point where we say enough – what do we want to do,” Schmenk said.
Earlier this year the commissioners passed a resolution, with Schmenk voting against it, to support a statewide bill that would have allowed voters to referendum an approved solar farm.
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