Legal bills mount for local govs as Greene County solar fight continues

Company appeal is pending

Local governments spent $204,513 in taxpayer money on legal bills battling a Texas company’s proposal to build a utility-scale solar electric generation facility in Greene County, an investigation by this news organization found

Those legal costs could rise because the Kingwood Solar I, LLC proposal remains active, despite strong public opposition, an Ohio Power Siting Board denial of the company’s application and an unsuccessful appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court by Kingwood Solar, a subsidiary of Texas-based Vesper Energy.

Kingwood Solar has a new appeal of the siting board decision pending before the court. And Vesper subsidiary Aviation Energy Center has proposed another solar electric generation facility in Greene County, although it has not yet submitted an application with the siting board or announced the proposed location in the county.

The company is currently evaluating land options, meeting with landowners and the community on the second proposed project, said Lindsey Workman, manager of community affairs for Vesper.

“If the Ohio Supreme Court rules in favor of the Kingwood Solar appeal, we are still very interested in working with the community to review and incorporate reasonable layout modifications in response to specific local feedback,” Workman said. “We believe Kingwood is beneficial for Ohio’s power infrastructure, environment and economy.”

Kingwood Solar wants to build a 175-megawatt solar electric generating facility on 1,200 acres of land in Cedarville, Miami and Xenia townships between Yellow Springs and Cedarville in Greene County. The parcels leased from about 17 landowners are not all contiguous so different parts of the project are spread across several miles in the three townships.

Kingwood Solar applied to the siting board for a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need in 2021 and was denied in December 2022. A rehearing request also was denied.

“The township trustees are not against responsible solar projects. Utility-scale projects that usurp our local zoning resolution placed near the power transmission lines that take valuable soils out of production is what they consider not responsible solar,” said Xenia Twp. Administrator Alan Stock, whose township spent $69,479.85 on legal fees fighting the Kingwood Solar proposal.

Greene County and Cedarville, Miami and Xenia townships were designated as “intervenors” in the siting board case, arguing against Kingwood Solar after hearing wide public opposition to the project. Greene County has spent $61,931.96 on legal fees so far. The county and Miami Twp. have filed merit briefs opposing Kingwood Solar’s latest supreme court appeal..

“We intervened to make sure we had a seat at the table,” said Cedarville Twp. Trustee Jeff Ewry, noting that legal fees cost the township $46,075. “Our position from a township point of view is we’re not really against the solar projects. We’re just against the siting for this one.”



Ewry said the amount of farmland that would be used for the project and its proximity to residential dwellings were major concerns.

“They’re wrapping this around too many houses,” he said.

Miami Twp. Trustee Don Hollister said he spoke to citizens in a variety of township settings and found overwhelming opposition to the plan, although many do support solar on rooftops or smaller-scale solar fields. Miami Twp. spent $27,026.50 on legal fees fighting the project, Hollister said.

“The location of Kingwood in Xenia Township would have taken prime agricultural soils out of agricultural production,” Stock said. “There were also concerns of impact to neighboring properties. There were concerns of disruption of the scenic and bucolic nature of the township.”

Wind and solar restrictions

In 2022 the Greene County Commission declared the unincorporated areas of Cedarville Twp. off limits for large scale solar and wind facilities. They did the same in 2023 for unincorporated land in Xenia Twp. and, for two years only, in the parts of Miami Twp. south and east of the Little Miami River, which includes the Kingwood Solar project area. The actions were taken at the request of township trustees following public meetings, said Greene County Assistant Administrator Lisa Hale.

“The only way they can build the project is if they win the appeal,” said Greene County Administrator Brandon Huddleson. “They cannot come back with a smaller project that still meets the definition of large-scale solar because of the resolutions.”

The county also restricted solar and wind developments in Sugarcreek, Ross and Jefferson townships at the request of those jurisdictions’ trustees, placing about half of the county’s jurisdictions off limits for large-scale wind and solar projects, Hale said. Other jurisdictions have not weighed in, she said.

“The commissioners recognize that they represent people and they feel strongly that those people should have their voices heard,” Hale said. “It’s a matter of where in our state and where in our county is an appropriate location for that.”



Asked if Vesper planned to fight those restrictions, Workman said there was a lot of “misinformation” about utility-scale solar when those decisions were made and the company is trying to do a better job communicating with the community about Kingwood Solar and Aviation Energy Center.

“We believe that by creating strong relationships through information sharing and community involvement, the benefits of solar energy and our project will inspire change,” Workman said.

“Ohio, and the local townships, have many active community members who likely wanted to know more about the project and felt uninformed. We now have a department and team of six people who are dedicated to working in communities from the beginning of each project.”

410,000 solar panels

The Kingwood Solar project would include 410,000 photovoltaic panels in linear arrays, associated equipment and structures, about 11 miles of roadway and a seven-foot perimeter fence, according siting board documents. Kingwood scaled back its original 1,500-acre proposal to 1,200 acres.

The facility would tie into the high-voltage electricity grid through an agreement with PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia.

That transmission line runs through Greene County.

“The thing that’s gold to a company like Vesper is that PJM approval to connect to the power grid,” Ewry said.

Kingwood’s application said the company considered the Greene County locations due to strong solar energy potential, proximity to electrical interconnection, willing landowners, site accessibility, compatible land use and limited environmental constraints.

“The need to diversify the electricity supply and provide a clean, safe, and stable grid has never been greater. Ohio is experiencing load growth, which is straining the grid, and it is facing less stable weather conditions due to climate change,” Workman said “By adding solar energy to the electricity grid, we can tackle both infrastructure needs and clean energy goals.”

In 2021, after Kingwood Solar began trying to site the project, state legislators passed a law that increased the role of local jurisdictions in the process of siting major utility projects. The siting board has final say in those projects.

The board has 11 members and is chaired by the head of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. It includes directors of five other state departments, a member of the public who is an engineer appointed by the governor and four non-voting members who are state legislators.

In denying Kingwood Solar’s application, the board cited overwhelming opposition from the public and the local jurisdictions and said the project did not serve the “public interest, convenience, and necessity” as required by state law.

The siting board heard from 68 opponents and supporters during a November 2021 public hearing, where 76% were against the project and 24% were for it. An additional 222 public comments were filed, with 63% opposing and 37% supporting the project, according to the siting board decision.

“The overarching issue from Project opponents was concern that the Project is incompatible with local land use plans and would unalterably change the rural nature of the community,” the siting board decision said.

Opponents were concerned about the loss of prime agricultural land and the impact on food supplies, and said they feared it would damage the land, reduce property values, negatively impact wildlife and aesthetics, cause noise and not be properly decommissioned.

Those in favor, including landowners who had leased their land to Kingwood, argued for property owners’ rights and autonomy over their land and said it allowed farmers to diversify their income and preserve their land from more permanent development. Project supporters also noted the benefits of solar energy as a renewable and clean energy source, the tax income that would go to local schools and governments, and employment opportunities during construction and operation.

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court the board contends it properly applied state law in denying the company a certificate to build the facility and should not be second-guessed by the court.

Kingwood Solar argues that the board improperly denied its proposal and that the plan met state law criteria, according to the company’s Oct. 11, 2023 appeal. The company also contends that the board improperly considered local government authorities’ positions on the project.

Workman said the company wants “to work with the local communities and agree to requests when feasible.”

“To date, the project has committed to increase setbacks to 300-feet from public roadways, property lines, and public land. Additionally, we have committed to vegetative screening to limit the view of the project from neighboring homes,” Workman said. “The entire project will be seeded with pollinator-friendly plants that positively impact biodiversity. Solar projects also do not use pesticides.”

She said the company would adhere to all state and local maintenance and decommissioning rules.

More than 65% of a solar facility’s land is open, native grassland that can be transitioned back to farmland when the facility is decommissioned, Workman said.

“Additionally, there are other larger threats to prime farmland, including residential development and climate change,” she said. “Solar projects can help maintain the agricultural character of a community and allow landowners to preserve their property for future generations.”

Staff writer London Bishop contributed to this report.

Follow @LynnHulseyDDN on Facebook, Instagram and X.

About the Author