After spending multiple meetings exploring whether to prohibit utility-scale solar and wind farms in Etna Township, the trustees ultimately rejected the idea.
A resolution failed 1-2 Tuesday night with Trustees Rozland McKee and Jeff Johnson voting against the resolution and Trustee Mark Evans, who brought the matter forward, casting the lone vote in favor.
Etna doesn't have the authority to prohibit them on their own. But through a state law passed in 2021, counties have the authority to bar or limit development of wind farms larger than 5 megawatts and solar farms larger than 50 megawatts. Etna Township needed to pass a resolution asking the Licking County Commissioners to designate Etna Township as an exclusionary zone for utility-scale energy farms on their behalf.
McKee said she wasn't ready to vote on the matter yet, partly because the township's comprehensive plan, which will outline future land uses for the township, won't be ready until late September.
Evans said the effort was about protecting the township and it would be a mistake to wait. He recalled that Dale Arnold, the director of energy, utility and local government policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau, told the board members during their July 18 meeting that local farmers have been approached by solar developers.
Across the state, construction of solar farms is ramping up, with about 50 such projects in some stage of development or recently completed.
Two large scale solar projects in Licking County have been approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board: a 108-megawatt solar field on 512 acres of Harrison Township farmland, which is on hold and not under construction, and another 350-megawatt solar project on 1,880 acres scattered throughout a 2,630-acre area in Hartford and Bennington townships that is also on hold pending a court appeal.
"I think we need to get ahead because once they file, it's out of our hands," Evans said.
Evans said based on conversations he has had with the county commissioners, they are ready to take this up if the township trustees provide it to them.
Commissioner Tim Bubb previously told The Advocate the commissioners would welcome and consider a request to proactively create an exclusionary zone if the township proposed one.
Township Administrator Nita Hanson said per a July 20 letter she received from the commissioners, they would give the township's request for an exclusionary zone consideration but have not made a commitment to move forward with the public process that would be needed to prohibit utility-scale energy farms.
Evans still insisted the township should pass the resolution and go from there.
"Even if they refused to take this up, we're here to protect our residents and determine our destiny, not the county," he said.
Hanson also said the trustees need to determine if they would like the entire township to be an exclusionary zone or just certain portions are parcels based on the final comprehensive plan.
Despite the vote failing, Evans said after the meeting he plans to bring up the matter again in the future.