This story is in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can submit questions to the staff.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on June 20, 2023, at 12:45 pm to reflect that Apex Energy has 128 acres under lease contract in Miller Township.
MOUNT VERNON — Signs stating “Say no to industrial solar” have popped up throughout the county over the past year. A reader questioned the signs and, through Knox Pages’ Open Source feature, asked, “What is industrial solar?”
The short answer is industrial solar is solar power used for industrial purposes.
However, the question led to an interesting study into solar terminology. Several terms frequently used interchangeably have slight nuances.
Most people are familiar with residential solar, so that will be our starting point.
Residential solar powers a single house. The number of solar panels varies, but it is usually about eight to 10. The panels are typically mounted on the roof.
Anything other than residential solar is utility-scale. Utility-scale solar includes several categories:
• Commercial: for a commercial business. Panels could number a dozen or several thousand and be mounted on the business’ roof or ground-mounted nearby.
• Industrial: designed for factories, warehouses, manufacturing, or large corporations. Industrial systems could be roof- or ground-mounted arrays.
• Community: A hybrid between residential and utility-scale. Typically, a utility builds a small (0.5-20 MW) utility-scale project and sells the energy to a group of customers.
There is no standardization when defining residential and utility-scale solar in terms of output.
The Law Insider defines residential as less than 5 kW (kilowatt).
The Solar Energy Industries Association defines utility-scale solar as projects generating more than 1 MW (megawatt) of energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory defines utility-scale as 5 MW and above.
Large utility-scale solar projects that are 50 MW or above fall under the jurisdiction of the Ohio Power Siting Board. Locally, townships are looking at their zoning regulations and deciding how to handle mid-scale solar development, those projects under 50 MW.
In May 2022, Knox Pages looked at the companies interested in developing solar projects in Knox County: Apex Clean Energy, ibV Energy, and Open Road Renewables. All of the projects fall under the jurisdiction of the OPSB and are utility-scale solar.
It is resident opposition to these projects that prompted the signs that our reader asked about.
Apex Clean Energy
Apex has two projects: Tuma Run and Coleman Branch.
Tuma Run is in the southern part of the county, near Tuma Run Road and the Licking County border. It includes Pleasant, Miller, and Morgan townships. Tuma Run is planned to be a 75 MW, 375-acre project.
Coleman Branch is north of Apple Valley near Amity. It includes Pike, Morris, and Monroe townships. Coleman Branch is planned to be up to a 120 MW, 600-acre project.
Apex’s representative at the time, Tyler Fehrman, said the projects were in the early stages of development. Fehrman is no longer with Apex, and no one from the company responded by press time.
Apex Energy has 128 acres under contract under the name Tuma Run on the Knox County Recorder’s site.
Robin Saiz, co-founder and chief development officer for ibV, said the company is “still alive” and wants to be in Knox County. However, with the number of projects in the PJM queue cycle, some progress is at a standstill.
PJM Interconnection is a federally regulated organization that operates the electricity grid in Ohio, the District of Columbia, and 12 other states. PJM, in conjunction with the developer, also conducts a series of studies: feasibility, impact, and facilities.
ibV is still in the feasibility stage. With the overwhelming influx of projects into PJM, PJM put a two-year moratorium on new projects and is working through queue projects on a first-filed basis.
“We’re continuing to move forward, but we’re not going to go full bore until we know what that first study looks like,” Saiz said. “We’re looking at land, doing groundwork, figuring out the system; we are doing that.”
According to the recorder’s site, the company has not leased any more land in addition to the 792 acres under contract since 2021. The parcels are in Pike, Morris, and Berlin townships.
“I think we have enough of the land leased, but we don’t have enough land for right-of-way (easements),” Saiz said. “We’re doing some of that work in parallel.
“This is a valuable project for not only the county but for the state of Ohio for growth and industry,” he continued. “Every day we are seeing more and more companies who want to reduce their carbon footprint.”
Saiz said solar projects help recruit companies to the state and local area.
“It helps the local commuity because of the tax base. Once they see that, they’ll see the value,” he said.
In May 2022, Frasier Solar, a subsidiary of Open Road Renewables, had around 964 acres leased. It now has 1,533. The parcels are in Miller, Clinton, and Pleasant townships.
Craig Adair, vice president of development for Open Road Renewables, told the county commissioners on Thursday that of the 1,533 acres, 840 acres will have solar panels.
Adair said the plan is to hold a public meeting mid- to late July and submit the application to the Ohio Power Siting Board in August.
OPSB will accept public comments until spring 2024. Adair expects a decision from the OPSB in August 2024.
“It could slip a little bit, but I don’t think it will slip very much,” he said of the timetable.
The 120 MW project consists of two phases: Phase 1 is 80 MW, and Phase 2 is 40 MW. Phase 1 is in the facilities study stage; Phase 2 is in the feasibility stage.
Both projects are partially grandfathered in as they relate to Ohio Senate Bill 52, passed in late 2021. The bill gives county commissioners the right to reject outright utility-scale projects or approve them on a case-by-case basis.
In August 2022, the commissioners voted to ban wind farms outright but look at solar on a case-by-case basis. However, Open Road was far enough along when SB 52 passed that its projects were not subject to the bill’s provision on commissioner oversight.
On Thursday, Adair said that although Open Road currently has nothing planned, there is always a possibility that the company might implement a Phase 3.
“If we determine the Sharp Road station has more capacity, we could possibly go to a Phase 3. That would technically be another project because we’d have to go through another PJM connection,” he explained, adding that the earliest a Phase 3 could come online is 2028 or 2029.
“Phase 3 would not be grandfathered in so it would be effectively starting from scratch,” he added.
Adair said the company could not change the current projects to 150 MW because the impact and feasibility studies were done based on 120 MW.
In addition to updating the commissioners on the project’s status, Adair discussed the proposed Frasier Solar PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) plan. Knox Pages will next look at what a PILOT is and what it would look like for Frasier Solar.