Revisiting the Kingwood Solar project (2022)

Revisiting the Kingwood Solar project (1)

Last November, an estimated 300 people crowded into the Expo Center at the Greene County Fairgrounds for a public hearing conducted by the Ohio Power Siting Board to hear testimony from residents about the proposed 1,500-acre Kingwood Solar project that if approved will encompass land in Miami, Xenia and Cedarville townships. (Photo by Carol Simmons)

Thousands of pages of testimony, motions, exhibits and other related documents have been filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board, or OPSB, in the ongoing effort by Texas-based Vesper Energy to build and operate a large-scale solar power field that encompasses land in Miami, Xenia and Cedarville townships.

If approved, the proposed 1,500-acre project is expected to generate about 360,000 megawatt hours of electricity for utility users in Ohio and several eastern states.

The timeline in considering the project known as Kingwood Solar has been extended over the months since Vesper filed its application in April 2021. Following a public hearing in Xenia this past November, the OPSB scheduled the final hearing — an adjudicated proceeding in which official parties and their legal representatives could provide testimony and conduct cross-examination — in December. That hearing, however, was pushed back until early March, with the expectation that the OPSB would make a ruling before summer.

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But that definitive ruling is now not expected until at least August, according to Miami Township Trustee Don Hollister. The three-person trustees board, which is a registered “intervenor,” or official commenter, in the case, passed a resolution in November in opposition to the project.

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According to Hollister, June 13 is the OPSB’s deadline for submitting post-hearing briefs, in followup to the March proceedings; and July 22 is the deadline for replies to those briefs.

Vesper Energy has since 2017 signed contracts with at least 17 area property owners to lease the desired acreage for 43 years, starting at $1,000 per acre per year, according to past News reporting. Farmland typically rents for between $200 to $250 an acre in the area.

According to its application to OPSB, Vesper plans to place 410,000 solar photovoltaic panels on the leased land, along with building a substation, utility switchyard and other infrastructure.

The project, planned as multiple noncontiguous parcels, would have portions in proximity to 4-H Camp Clifton, Clifton Gorge, Clifton Mill, John Bryan State Park, Glen Helen Nature Preserve and the Little Miami River. In addition, 159 residences are located within 1,500 feet of the project, according to the application.

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Opponents have expressed concerns about the environmental impact on land, water and wildlife; the loss of prime agricultural real estate; noise associated with construction and operation; the visual appearance; accountability; and negative interactions with Vesper officials.

Opposition by neighbors and governing groups, including Greene County Commissioners and Miami, Xenia and Cedarville township trustees, was cited by OPSB technical staff in recommending last October that the OPSB board deny the application.

Supporters, however, have stressed the environmental benefits of transitioning from fossil fuels to solar energy; the financial benefits to landowners, particularly farmers seeking to find new revenue sources in order to hold on to properties that in some cases have been in their families for generations; tax benefits for local governments and schools; and the expectation that landowners be allowed to use their properties as they choose.

In response to area concerns, Vesper modified its original application in February to increase the setbacks from public roads and residential properties. Perimeter fencing would be placed a minimum of 250 feet from adjacent residences, 200 feet from Clifton Road and 300 feet from State Route 72, according to the company. Central inverters — large-grid feeders — would be placed a minimum of 500 feet from neighboring properties.

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The company has also launched a publicity campaign highlighting the economic benefits of a projected $1.5 million in annual local taxes and the addition of 200-300 local jobs, among other outcome claims. Its efforts have included maintaining a website at kingwoodsolar.com and buying a series of full-page ads in the Yellow Springs News.

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