Clark County rejects ban on large wind, solar farms; property rights cited

Commissioner says she voted against ban because “it concerns me to take away the choice of the homeowner.”

Property owners in unincorporated areas of Clark County can lease or sell their land for potential large wind and solar facilities if they wish following the failure of a proposal for the blanket prohibition of those facilities in the county.

At a public hearing Wednesday, the Clark County Commission unanimously rejected the proposal to restrict the creation of all large solar and wind farms in unincorporated parts of the county. One commissioner cited the rights of property owners to pursue the legal use of their property.

The decision was made after the 2021 passage of Ohio Senate Bill 52, which allows a board of county commissioners to prohibit the construction of utility-scale wind or solar facilities altogether or in certain designated zones in unincorporated areas.

Utility-scale wind and solar facilities include larger facilities connected to the electrical grid that generate 50 megawatts of energy or more. Also included in the bill are “economically significant” wind facilities connected to the grid that generate between five or more megawatts but less than 50 megawatts. S.B. 52 does not address smaller, personal solar projects, such as panels on a household’s roof.

No utility-scale solar or wind facilities exist in Clark County.

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A solar facility has been discussed in Harmony Twp. near Plattsburg, but no public hearings have been scheduled for the facility, according to Harmony Twp. trustee Jay Flax, who attended Wednesday’s public hearing.

As of this week, the possible facility also has not filed a pre-application with the Ohio Power Siting Board, which oversees the development and construction of utility providers in the state, according to the board’s website.

The rejection of the blanket restriction means developers of solar or wind facilities that want to call Clark County home will undergo the process they currently go through before and after breaking ground: multiple steps of approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board, including environmental impact studies and public hearings for residents living near the proposed facility to voice any concerns.

Projects must also gain approval from PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization that oversees wholesale electricity in Ohio and several other states.

Six of the 10 townships in the county – Springfield, Harmony, Moorefield, Madison, Pike and Bethel – requested the commission restrict their areas in the county from wind and solar facility development.

Multiple people voiced their support for the restriction of solar and wind facilities in the county.

Longtime farmer Bill Agle said at the public hearing he has received numerous letters from solar power developers over the years to inquire about his farmland. He’s not against the use of solar panels to generate energy, but wanted to see them restricted to areas in the county that did not contain farmland.

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“I guess I’m struggling with why we want to cover up our farmland, which is one of our greatest resources,” he said. “There’s plenty of city areas. Old, poor, worn-out buildings that can be destroyed, knocked-down and cleaned-up.”

Others, however, voiced opposition to blanket restrictions of solar and wind facilities in the county’s unincorporated areas.

Larry Ricketts, of Springfield, said he thought property owners, including farmers, should have the choice to sell or lease land, if they wish, to energy providers.

“We have a choice right now, and in the next couple of years. We can accept the fact that solar and wind and these types of farms are the wave of the future,” he said. “All I’m saying is, be careful when you do a thing like this, that says you cannot do something and then handcuff yourself.”

Commissioners Melanie Flax Wilt, Sasha Rittenhouse and Lowell McGlothin ultimately rejected the blanket restriction of wind and solar facilities in unincorporated areas in the county in a 3-0 vote, citing concerns with prohibiting the legal use of property.

Flax Wilt said Wednesday’s decision was not about the validity of wind and solar power; rather, the impact of prohibiting the legal use of property.

“One issue that I really continue to not be able to rectify to myself is property rights: taking away property rights for any legal use,” she said. “That’s the thing that I continue to narrow in on, that it concerns me to take away the choice of the homeowner.”

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