CIRCLEVILLE — More than 100 people attended a public hearing by the Ohio Power Siting Board to hear from interested parties about the Circleville Solar Project.
The project, located near the area of state Route 56 and state Route 104 just west of Circleville in Jackson and Wayne Township, is being developed by NextEra Energy Resources.
Of those in attendance, 21 chose to spoke. Among them, a handful representatives from construction related unions all spoke in favor of the project, as did two property owners the project would be constructed on, as did a representative from Lancaster Mayor Dave Scheffler’s office.
Scheffler is on the board of directors at NOPEC, a non-profit energy supplier, as a central Ohio representative. The remaining speakers, some coming in t-shirts that said “no industrial solar on farmland”, were against the approval.
Phyllicia Faieta, representing Scheffler’s Office as his executive assistant, said Scheffler couldn’t attend in person due to a council meeting in Lancaster that night.
“The city of Lancaster is a member of [NOPEC] the largest retail aggregate of energy in Ohio,” Faieta said speaking on behalf of Scheffler. “[NOPEC is a non-profit Ohio council of regional governments comprised of 242 political subdivisions in 19 Ohio counties. NOPEC has contracted to purchase all of the renewal attributes from this Circleville Solar project for the benefit of the City of Lancaster’s residents and the nearly 600,000 Ohio customers NOPEC serves through aggregation.”
Faieta spoke about an educational component of the project, one where local students would be able to visit the project on field trips and learn about the energy industry.
“The students will be able to experience first hand a working solar facility in production with a STEM instructor providing education to the students,” Faieta said, speaking again on behalf of Scheffler. “I know we in Lancaster look forward to our school districts students to have this educational opportunity only 30 miles away.”
Bill Bates, a property owner who leased his land to NextEra, spoke in favor of the project.
“I proudly supportive to have leased to America’s largest renewable energy supplier, NextEra,” Bates said. “I’m hopeful you can judge Circleville Solar on it’s own merit and not by other projects in the area, as I believe other community members have done.”
Kaylee Padova, Bates’ daughter, said she was in favor. Padova said she grew up down the street from the project and if approved, it would be built “right behind” her father’s house.
“I understand the concerns of community members who do not want to have solar panels right outside their windows, that is not this project,” Padova said, citing the current standards and ways in which the designs will exceed the current requirements. “I realize this is a tough decision to make. This is a great opportunity not only for my family but also for my community which is why I urge you to vote in favor of this project.”
Those that spoke out against the project cited many different reasons including the loss of farm land and economic impacts to businesses that support those industries, how other projects in Ohio have been doing, the manner of materials used to construct the panels and how they are sourced, potential hazards to nearby properties from fire, financial repercussions on property values and livestock, among others.
Mallorey Ethel, talked bout having a “front row view” to the Yellowbud project “destroying the environment.” She also presented a list of businesses she felt would be impacted by the development.
“I’m very frustrated with what’s being stolen here in Pickaway County and in Ohio,” Ethel said, who said they’d rather be getting ready for the wheat harvest than be at the hearing. “If the properties were farmed as they are today and should be, the farmers and many more people would benefit for years and years. By putting the land into industrial use, we are taking 50-plus years away from a farmer and the organizations that support those farmers are also being affected.”
“It’s very frustrating that at the expense of the citizens and residents of Pickaway County that these companies are capitalizing on what’s easy and most profitable for them and there are no regulations to protect farmland,” Ethel said. “We live in America, surely we can do better than this.”
Kay Sweeney, another local property owner, was among those that also spoke out against the project.
“I’ve read a lot about how these projects will have no effect on property value and I could not imagine that anyone thinks there will be no impact to property value,” Sweeney said, sharing a picture of her property and what her view could look like of the various projects in Pickaway County proceed. “I have seen reports that as much as 60 percent of loss in property value. That just tears me apart thinking about that. To think about all the years I’ve worked so hard to loose 60 percent is hard to think about.”
Steve Gardner, a former zoning inspector for Jackson Township, said it was important to him where the solar panels and their materials originate, citing information from other publications that materials are mined or made using forced and child labor in Africa and Asia.
“I implore the Ohio Power Siting Board, Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio State Legislature to implore a moratorium on all industrial solar projects until each company can guarantee and certify the components made with forced slave labor, child labor is not allowed,” he said. “Allowing such materials is tantamount to crimes against humanity. Any tax money derived from solar panels manufactured with forced slave labor and/or child labor is blood money. Can we live with that?”