The Butler County commissioners said while they understand the need for supporting alternative energy sources, they want to respect the wishes of their township trustees so they voted unanimously to ban industrial solar and wind farms.
Last week they conducted a required public hearing after 12 of 13 township trustee boards passed resolutions asking them to ban the utility-grade energy generating farms. Several people spoke out against the ban and Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he heard them, but believes the issue may be moot anyway and “we have a natural tendency to support our trustees.”
“The people opposing this made some good points but the only thing is on this particular item we are voting on it is unrealistic, based upon the minimum assemblance of acres in the entire county that anybody could put a deal together,” Rogers said. “Sot hat’s why I don’t believe we’re actually taking the rights of property owners in the reality of this.”
Last October, Senate Bill 52 took effect, allowing county commissioners to prohibit utility-scale solar and wind facilities within the townships. Zeb Acuff, the commissioners’ planning administrator, said there doesn’t appear to be a market for wind turbines in this area because gusts aren’t adequate, but solar facilities are a different matter. He said facilities large enough to meet the criteria of the commissioners’ banning authority would have to have the capacity to generate 50 megawatts or more.
Last week Oxford Twp. Trustee Gary Salmon, who is head of the county township association and on the board of directors for the Ohio Township Association, told the commissioners representatives from the solar industry told the OTA a facility that can generate 50 megawatts would take up 400 acres.
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she understands as a public official she has a responsibility to consider ways of reducing reliance on fossil fuels, but they also have a responsibility to the wishes of their township officials. Lemon Twp. is the only township that did not ask for the ban.
“We respect that they are the elected officials closest to the citizens, that they speak to us as the voice of the citizens,” Carpenter said. “So I have decided to support their request.”
The residents who spoke out against the ban urged the commissioners not to ban the solar facilities because they are necessary for a sustainable future and they should leave the decisions to the people who own the land. Margaret Branstrater of Oxford Twp. was one of them and she told the Journal-News she is disappointed the commissioners decided to enforce the ban.
“I think it’s a mistake, I think it will do more harm than help and I think it’s going to hurt the farmers the most,” Branstrater said. “Because climate is happening, farmers are being hurt already by it and we have to get off of fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. If that includes using some farmland for solar I think that’s what we’ve got to do. I’m sorry they’re not looking further down the road than what they are.”
Commissioner Don Dixon also said he doesn’t believe there is enough available land within the county for one of these facilities, but the ban isn’t necessarily written in stone.
“We can always go back and revisit this if the trustees or an applicant comes to us with a viable project that we would consider acceptable to the environment and to the area around it,” Dixon said. “Being a former township trustee I know that they hear from the residents directly, so I’m sure their recommendation came with a lot of input from their constituents.”
Prior to this new legislation, power facility locating was the purview of the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), and that entity will still be involved. According to a map on its website there are two solar facilities in pre-construction phase in Preble County and one under construction on the Clermont and Brown County border, but nowhere else near Butler County.
Jon Honeck, senior policy analyst with the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, told the Journal-News he only knows of a handful of counties that have enacted bans or some version thereof. The legislation was introduced to limit the OPSB’s power.
Reily Twp. Trustee Nick Schwab thanked the commissioners for helping him keep his promise to his constituents.
“I think Reily was the first township to come to the commissioners with this problem,” Schwab said “It wasn’t that we were looking for something to do, but when you go to a trustee meeting and you’ve got about 25 residents sitting there it tends to get your attention.”
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