Birch Solar had already had to scale back from its original solar field plans, from the purple outline on the map to the orange boundaries. Now, after nearly two years of public outcry and regulatory impediment, plans for Birch Solar have come to an end.
SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — The Ohio Power Siting Board on Thursday denied LightsourceBP’s application to construct a 300-megawatt solar farm in Shawnee and Logan Township, citing local opposition to the project that would have occupied about 1,400 acres of farmland.
It was an anti-climactic end to a two-year saga as the Power Siting Board unanimously denied the application during its public meeting Thursday.
There was no public comment, a stark contrast to the lively meetings that preceded Thursday’s vote.
Instead, the Power Siting Board issued a press release shortly after its meeting citing the lack of “public interest, convenience and necessity as required by Ohio law” in its decision to reject the Birch Solar project.
Technical staff issued a report last October recommending the Power Siting Board deny the application, which was opposed by the township trustees and county commissioners in Allen and Auglaize counties.
The project would have been denied earlier had LightsourceBP not submitted its application to the Power Siting Board before the Allen County commissioners restricted development of large-scale alternative energy projects in unincorporated parts of the county, thanks to a new law granting local governments more control over where solar farms are built.
“If it wasn’t grandfathered in, it would have been prohibited from the jump,” Allen County Commissioner Cory Noonan said on Thursday.
Shawnee and Logan Township residents first learned of the project two years ago as LightsourceBP began contacting landowners, inspiring citizen groups to lobby for and against Birch Solar.
The company boasted that the Birch Solar Farm would generate enough energy to power 55,000 homes per year, or every home in Allen County, and that the $337 million project would create hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue.
LightsourceBP scaled back its proposal amid opposition from residents so the solar farm would occupy 1,400 acres, rather than 2,600 acres. But opposition persisted as neighboring landowners questioned the proposed solar farm’s impact on property values, drainage and sustainability, ultimately leading the commissioners to restrict where future solar projects can be built.
“We don’t oppose the idea of solar energy,” said Clark Spieles, chairman of the Shawnee Township Trustees, who opposed the project.
But Birch Solar’s proximity to homes and the township’s “best farm ground” was unfair to residents, Spieles said.
“We have industrial area that they’re more than welcome to take a look at,” he said. “We just think there’s better places for construction of the solar fields.”
Still, the Power Siting Board’s decision drew criticism from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which described solar farms as a “pathway into the electrical trades.”
“These are local jobs for local workers that were denied today in this wrong-headed decision; jobs that provide a living wage and family-sustaining benefits,” Mike Ruppert, business manager and journeyman wireman for the IBEW Local 32 in Lima, said in a statement Thursday.
While the Power Siting Board rejected the Birch Solar project, the board approved two solar projects in Franklin and Licking counties.
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