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    Fair Fields threatened by industrial solar encroachment


    May 26, 2022 - Scott Barr

     

      Residents of Amanda Township in Fairfield County fear that their fertile farmlands and beautiful countryside may be marred by industrial development unless proposed solar farm projects in the community can be stopped.

      A citizens' action group, Protect Amanda Township, hopes to gain support in order to block two solar farm project proposals that would occupy about 1700 acres of prime farmland.

      Lease agreements with solar energy companies were entered in 2019 without public awareness or consultation. The leased properties span from Ridge Road to the south, Reigle Road to the north, Amanda-Northern Road to the east and Cedar Hill Road to the west. Existing AEP electrical lines would transmit the generated power to energy-hungry out-of-state consumers.

      Though rising electrical consumption and environmental concerns make solar and wind energy seemingly good alternatives, there are many potential problems—the dark side of industrial solar energy production.

      Removal of prime farmland from production is an important concern across the United States. Soil conservation would be negatively impacted by loss of fertility, compaction, and erosion. Water pollution and agricultural tile destruction are worries of neighboring farmers. Chemical spills, the spread of noxious weeds, and solar panel toxicity are other agricultural negatives. Wildlife, including birds, animals, and native plants, would be harmed by what one resident has called "a river of glass."

      Local farmer Greg Waidelich said, "I've taken care of this land all my life, planting cover crops and putting in tile. Money isn't everything. I've dealt with three pipelines going through my land. These guys don't care. They don't live here."

      According to Community and Environmental Defense Services, the rate of default and bankruptcy of industrial solar projects is an emerging problem that could leave clean-up and recovery of industrial wasteland sites to landowners and taxpayers.

      Property values of neighboring homes would be adversely affected, according to Molly Mosely, a local realtor. Roads would be deteriorated; peace and quiet disrupted; local businesses harmed; the beauty of the "fair fields" turned harsh and ugly. Many residents are worried that the idyllic country life they enjoy now will be ruined. Cultural erosion would make deep ruts.

      These widespread dangers were voiced by nearly 70 people who attended the Amanda Township Trustees meeting on May 9 at the Amanda Firehouse. Residents stated their opposition to the impending projects and asked the trustees to support their constituents and protect the community. After hearing the complaints, the trustees unanimously voted to approve a resolution to oppose the intended solar farms.

      Unfortunately, local jurisdiction at the township and county levels has been circumvented by these industrial proposals. Although Amanda Township has zoning restrictions that limit large-scale commercial and residential developments, the fate of the current projects will be determined on the federal and state levels.

      As it stands now, the projects are awaiting full review by PJM, a federal regulatory energy commission. It is expected they will approve the projects and send them on to the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB). According to the local Amanda Township group, this could occur very soon, within weeks. OPSB will determine whether the projects can go forward.

      Amanda Township trustees and Fairfield County Commissioners may send ad hoc representatives to the OPSB meetings. Local citizens are urging our local officials to vigorously oppose industrial solar development. In addition, community members may speak to give testimony at the meetings; written statements will also be considered by OPSB.

      Though this fight is apparently a "David vs. Goliath" battle, pitting rural residents against BIG MONEY and BIG ENERGY, the Protect Amanda Township group is determined to fight the good fight, believing that "by banding together and reaching out to our public officials, we can put a stop to these Industrial Solar Projects."

      They are putting their message out there with yard signs, door-to-door visits to neighbors, a Facebook group, media information, letter writing, and other communications. They are contacting governmental officials on all levels to share their views. They hope to rally support for the cause of protecting our endangered lands and homes in Fairfield County.

      80-year-old farmer Dale Solt reflected, "Generations of my family have done things to help the community and protect the land. I hate to see the farmland destroyed."

      For more information, see Protect Amanda Township group—protectamandatownship@gmail.com and on Facebook

      Scott Barr is a 7th-generation resident of Amanda Township.

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