A conditional-use permit that would allow a solar farm, “Fayette Solar,” to be created in Perry Township was scheduled to be decided on during a Fayette County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting earlier this week, but the decision on whether to allow the solar farm or not was postponed.
The company that would be designing and operating Fayette Solar is National Grid Renewables. The farm is proposed to be located on 435 acres of land rented from a local landowner.
That land is located in southeast Perry Township between Bonner Road, Barrett Road, Beatty Road and the Highland County line. It is estimated to be a 47.5 megawatt (MW) solar energy development.
Essentially, a solar farm is an area typically consisting of multiple acres of land that tends to use ground-mounted solar panels (which are photovoltaic panels, also known as PV panels). Due to the amount of land needed for these farms, they are commonly found in rural locations. The specific location needs to be near enough to an electrical system that can handle the project, so it can’t be located in any random spot.
The decision to postpone came after concerns and negative feedback were shared during the meeting by members of the public who were in attendance. Although there are only two adjacent property owners to the proposed Fayette Solar, over a dozen Perry Township residents attended the meeting with complaints and questions.
More than one resident in attendance stated they did not live right by the area the solar farm was being proposed for, but that they would have to “drive by it everyday.”
Perry Township Trustee Tommy Creachbaum explained he was there with concerns and statements from other residents not in attendance. He and other residents are concerned about farmland being destroyed for solar farms.
Creachbaum said, “Some say they would do whatever they could do to keep this thing from going through. They don’t want it. I’m not going to dance around about it — it’s beautiful farmland. We’re very upset about destroying it.”
Eventually, a resident asked what, specifically, would be built that is not there right now.
According to one of the representatives from the company, senior developer and market lead Derek Hasek, the farm would contain solar panels covering approximately 15-20 percent of the farmland as there has to be spacing between them.
Around the farm would be a six-foot tall chain-link fence located 100 feet off the roadway except for when line-of sites require it to be further back at any potential intersections. There would be wires connecting the panels to the appropriate electrical equipment within the farm. Then, dedicated wires would be created using an existing electrical system leading to the substation outside of Greenfield in Madison Township (Highland County).
Low-growth grass seed would be used under and around the panels and native plants would be used in the area.
The actual size and specific type of panels that will be used is unknown at this time as further studies and bids must be done to find the best and most cost-effective options once the project moves along.
Some of the questions that arose during the meeting and collected responses are as follows:
-Will/can sheep be used to maintain the grass?
At this time, there are no plans to use sheep; however, the representatives explained it could be an idea to discuss in the future if there was someone local with enough sheep interested in doing something like that.
-Will pollinator-friendly plants be used?
According to Hasek, pollinator-friendly plants have been used for some of their projects before and could be used locally but is a push-and-pull type of issue as it can cause more weeds, which residents also showed concern for.
-How will weeds be dealt with?
Weeds will be dealt with by spot-treatment.
-Will there be an impact on wildlife such as deer migrating through?
Hasek explained that deer can jump over a six-foot fence so, yes, there will be an impact to “a certain degree,” but that a lot of critters will make homes in the solar farm area as predators can’t get to them as easily.
-Will lime stabilization be used on the soil (which could strengthen the soil to the point of being like concrete)?
A representative explained he would have to get more information to answer the question although their goal is to have as little impact on the land as possible. They do not plan to turn the area into concrete and the soil, itself, will be used to stabilize the project.
-Multiple people brought up a solar farm in Fayetteville and how it is not pleasing to the eye.
“I would respectfully say there’s a number of things about that project that is very different than who we are,” said Hasek.
Although Hasek explained multiple times that their company is not related to the Fayetteville project at all, multiple people in attendance continued to reference the project and used it as an example of why they did not want Fayette Solar to happen.
-Will the farm give off a magnetic field and, if so, will that disrupt signals such as ones that allow internet and WiFi?
In general, multiple sources agree that all electronic devices give off a magnetic and/or electric field — this includes cell phones, televisions, electrical wires, etc. that utilize signals such as those for the internet and correspondingly, WiFi. It should not greatly effect the surrounding area.
-Benefits for Fayette versus Highland County as the farm would be located in Fayette but the substation in Highland. Some residents mentioned how Fayette would be giving up the land for it but the benefits would go to Highland, while other residents mentioned Highland would have to deal with the substation even though they cannot turn down the solar farm.
According to officials from the company, revenue will be going into both counties.
National Grid Renewables Director of Marketing and Communications Lindsay Smith explained via email, “Fayette Solar will economically benefit both Fayette and Highland Counties — the largest benefit for Highland County is estimated to be the new tax revenue generated by the project that will flow into the Greenfield School District, which serves both Fayette and Highland Counties.”
Miami Trace Local School District in Fayette will also benefit from the taxes the farm will be paying, according to Fayette County Commissioner Dan Dean.
Smith wrote, “Overall, the benefits from the project will be significant, including tax revenue, charitable funding, and job creation – but also an increase in local spending during the construction process. Solar energy project construction requires specific licenses and certifications — gas stations, grocery stores, hotels, restaurants and other local businesses typically see a bump in revenue as a result of the influx of these construction team members.”
Smith further explained, “One benefit we would like to highlight is the charitable fund commitment for this project. As with all of our large-scale renewable energy projects, Fayette Solar is contemplated to receive a charitable fund once the project is operational. For Fayette Solar, we estimate this charitable fund will provide $190,000 over the first 20 years of project operation (subject to change based on final installed project size). This funding is above and beyond any tax revenue generated by the project.”
Some answers could not be given as the representatives explained multiple times that more studies will be done further into the project.
The next board of appeals meeting is scheduled for Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Union Township building, 1505 Old State Route 38 N.E., Washington C.H. The reason for the meetings being held at this location, according to Dean, is the building has recording equipment that other township buildings do not have and recordings of meetings are now being used as a tool for legal protection.
There are numerous conditions that must be followed if the permit passes. Follow the Record-Herald for another article prior to the meeting on these conditions, further questions that were addressed, and other information pertaining to Fayette Solar.
Those who wish to address further concerns or thoughts on the matter, including positive comments or outlooks on the project, are welcome to email zoning official Greg McCune at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach journalist Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355.