Township asks Greene County to restrict huge solar array proposed for farmland

Some Cedarville Twp. landowners already signed leases for Kingwood Solar; township claims everyone else is opposed; hearing still pending

Cedarville Twp. government officials have formally asked the Greene County Board of Commissioners to declare the township a restricted area for large-scale solar and wind facilities, saying an “overwhelming” number of residents expressed opposition to a proposed large-scale solar utility in the area.

Cedarville Twp. is among three Greene County townships, including Miami Twp. and Xenia Twp., where some landowners and farmers have leased their land to Texas-based company Vesper Energy.

Kingwood Solar is a proposed solar-powered electric generating facility, owned by Vesper, that would be placed on roughly 1,200 acres (just shy of two square miles) between Yellow Springs and Cedarville. In February, Kingwood reduced the project area from 1,500 acres after staff from the Ohio Power Siting Board recommended denying their permit application, citing community backlash.

In 2020, Kingwood acquired long-term leases from at least 17 landowners for the project, with most of that land currently in agricultural use. No solar panels have been installed yet.

ExploreKingwood Solar reduces project scope after community backlash

The facility has long been a source of controversy in the area. Residents who oppose the project have cited Kingwood’s use of prime farmland, and the proximity of the solar panels to rural homes. Those in favor of the development say it’s an opportunity to preserve their land for future generations.

Cedarville Twp. officials say they garnered feedback from residents before putting the request forward.

“This is a move we decided to make for our community,” said Jeff Ewry, Cedarville Twp. Board of Trustees President. “We thought it was too impactful to the residents that lived in the township.”

Ewry said opposition was “pretty much unanimous,” with the exception of the landowners that are renting to Kingwood. He added that many residents have said their main concern is poor placement of the solar project. The project area is not a single contiguous area of land, and is spread out over about five miles.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

“No other (solar) project in southwest Ohio is surrounding as many houses as this one,” Ewry said, adding that the proposed site is close to Camp Clifton and John Bryan State Park, both popular agritourism and recreational sites in the county.

Officials from Vesper Energy said they recently proposed an additional 50% reduction in project area, to eliminate most areas near residences and Cedarville University. They said it would double the setback distance from residences, and triple the setback from roads.

“We are disappointed to hear the Cedarville Township is pursuing this extreme path that takes jobs and tax revenue away from Greene County,” said Vesper Chief Development Officer Juan Suarez. “We have consistently tried to connect with officials to seek compromise. We remain committed to Kingwood Solar, to provide energy security, and curb climate change for the residents of Cedarville Township, Greene County, and all Ohioans.”

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County officials say Cedarville Twp. is the first local government to make this request. The earliest the commissioners may vote on the measure is December.

“We’re not against solar at all. We just want smart planning,” Greene County Commissioner Rick Perales said. “We expect there are areas (in Greene County) that are suitable for solar panels. We want to make sure we do it right.”

The case is still pending before the Ohio Power Siting Board, which held the formal adjudicatory hearing in March.

The Ohio Power Siting Board technically has sole jurisdiction over whether or not Kingwood can begin construction, but a new Ohio law complicates things. The recently passed House Bill 52 gives local governments a say in these matters, essentially treating local officials as extensions of the siting board.

Kingwood Solar’s initial application was filed before HB52 passed, meaning the law doesn’t technically apply in this case. But members of the OPSB have said they will listen to input from local jurisdictions, citing the spirit of the law now in effect.

Greene County commissioners, along with other local governments and community organizations, filed to intervene with Kingwood’s application process last year.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

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