CROTON — A steady stream of residents flowed through the doors of the 4-H Center on the Hartford Fairgrounds on Wednesday, seeking to learn how a proposed solar farm will affect them.
The Harvey Solar farm is projected to cover 2,865 acres in Hartford and Bennington townships in Licking County. The counties are adjacent to and south of Knox County's Hilliar and Milford townships.
The original estimation of acreage was 2,200.
Project developer Open Road Renewables hosted the public information meeting. Representatives from the Ohio Power Siting Board and the Cincinnati branch of environmental firm Cardno also attended.
After viewing the posters and maps and talking with company representatives, public reaction was varied.
“It's all new to us. I don't know enough to ask questions at this point,” said Tammy Crudy of Delaware.
Crudy and her husband, Don, own property in Delaware County on the Knox/Delaware county line. The property, which belonged to Crudy's parents, is across the road from a proposed solar field.
Don Crudy said he was concerned about the farm land.
“What happens to CAUV [current agricultural use value]?” he asked. “How do you repair the tile system?”
“When it impacts drainage, how is that addressed?” added Tammy Crudy. “And how are they decommissioned?”
Hartford Township resident Gerry Davies, who would have a solar field behind and across the road from his property, wanted to know what a solar farm does to property values.
“You buy out in the country for a reason,” he said. “My next concern is the environmental impact as far as runoff and water. I have a drainage ditch and trouble with flooding issues. Is it going to increase or decrease problems with that?”
Davies said he got the information he needed.
“I do feel like my concerns, especially the runoff, have been addressed,” he said. “It sounds like it will actually be less [runoff.]”
Dan Nussbaum also cited property values and water runoff as concerns.
“They're saying the property values won't go down, but there's no guarantee,” he said. “A water issue is one concern. There's already an existing issue; I don't want it to be worse.
“There's no comfort zone with it,” he said of the project. “We know what we are getting. We don't know how it will affect our property values.”
Jack Harrison thinks the property values might go down the first year or so, but they will come back up.
“It's not like the egg farm with the stench and noise,” he said, referencing the former Croton Egg Farm, now Trillium Farm.
Harrison will have a solar field next door to his home. He's also putting some of his acreage -- less than half -- into the solar project. His land is in a trust.
“I'm 64 years old. This is pretty much financial security for the rest of my life and my kids' lives,” he said. “My older brother is in the trust. I can't deny him that financial security.”
Harrison said he initially was not interested in putting land into the project but changed his mind as he learned more.
Brad Garee, who will have a solar field as a next-door neighbor, had concerns abut the end game — how they will be getting rid of it in 40 years — and whether it is noisy or emits heat.
“I don't know that I am more comfortable [with the project], but they did answer my questions,” he said. “I don't begrudge [my neighbor]. It's his property and he can do what he wants with it. I am not 'anti' this project. I'm more curious than anything.”
Sixty-three-year-old Tom Cooperrider is putting roughly 100 acres into the solar project. He was initially approached about three years ago.
“I'm a third-generation dairy farmer. None of my kids wanted to take over the farm,” he said. “This is something I could join and be able to keep the ground in the family.
“My family's been here since 1913,” he continued. “I'm trying to do a good job and take care of the land. Volatility in the market for dairy products just wasn't good. I sold my cows four years ago.
“It's a management tool for some people to help with the business of the farm,” he said.
Cooperrider is also a Hartford Township trustee. Some residents have said he has a conflict of interest between his trustee duties and being a landowner leasing his ground to Harvey Solar.
“The trustees have no power in bringing it in, and I would recuse myself should anything ever come to some sort of vote on the issue,” he said.
If the siting board approves the 350-megawatt solar farm, Licking County will receive $9,000 per MW each year. The arrangement is Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). The $9,000 is the standard default amount for solar farms in Ohio.
The payment equates to $3.1 million a year. The county, schools, townships, and emergency services will share the money. The project has a 40-year lifespan.
Cooperrider noted that in talking with the Northridge High School superintendent, he was told the money the school district would receive represents about 10% of its yearly budget.
“You can't go wrong with that. It just fends off that much more time where they will not have to ask for a levy,” he said. “It will also generate income from the township's standpoint.”
Cooperrider pointed out that while the construction will take a year, it will only be in certain areas at a time, not along the whole farm.
“There won't be any noise or anything. Traffic is just minimal. The money is supposed to be there to help us fix the roads,” he said.
Regarding the farm land, Cooperrider said the grass will serve as a cover crop, and the land should be replenished and built up again by the end of the solar contract. If farm tiles need replaced, Harvey Solar will make the repairs so as to avoid damage to solar panels or equipment.
Centerburg resident Gary Moore lives on Clover Valley Road in Hartford Township. He heads a group of residents who have lots of concerns about Harvey Solar.
Moore said there was not a lot of initial contact with landowners. Subsequent contact was with landowners within about 1,000 feet of the panels.
“I think there's been a very quiet approach to this, and that's one of the things that concern us,” he said. “They are following the letter of the law.
"We have concerns about some things we have heard about other projects," he continued. “This community was hit really hard by the Croton Egg Farm, and the economics and quality of life were severely impacted. I'm not saying this will happen, but once bitten, twice shy.”
Moore said he is not opposed to solar and in fact gets his electric via solar power.
“A large industrial solar farm might be different,” he said. “There's going to be a lot of additional research done.”
Noting that the Croton Egg Farm was mismanaged, Moore said, “We don't know about the management of this one. That's why we are asking questions.
“The loss of prime farm land is a real concern,” he continued. “I would favor solar in a brownfield site.”
Other concerns include the proximity of the panels to homes, traffic during construction, and the panels themselves.
“Where are they produced? What do they have in them? What's the possibility for leaching?” Moore asked.
“The economic value of our homes is a huge concern. Studies show there's a significant impact within one-tenth of a mile and as far away as a mile,” he said. “We'd like to learn a lot more about the leasing. Apparently this was done early without [everyone's] knowledge.”
Moore also is concerned about multi-generational historical properties.
“Our hope is the next generation can have a good quality of life in a rural atmosphere,” he said.
Moore acknowledged that there could be some positive elements about Harvey Solar, such as the seasonal grass and pollinators. There's also been a suggestion of grazing sheep in lieu of using lawn mowers.
“There's just a lot of unanswered questions, and that's what we are trying to find out,” he said.
Doug Herling, vice president of development for Open Road Renewables, was happy with the turnout for the meeting.
“This is exactly what we were hoping would happen,” he said. “The more people can learn at the beginning and learn about the process, the better. Whether it's talking with neighbors or an expert, it's good.”
On July 12, Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law Senate Bill 52. The law gives county officials the authority to block large-scale solar and wind projects. If a county designates a restricted area for a wind or solar field, residents can ask for a countywide referendum on the issue.
The law provides that if a solar or wind farm has reached a certain point in the process, the project is not subject to the requirements of SB 52. Herling said the Harvey Solar farm is past that point and is grandfathered in.
According to Harvey Solar information, the plan is to file its application with the siting board within 90 days of Wednesday's meeting. The Ohio Power Siting Board will set a date for a public hearing between 60 and 90 days after certifying the application is complete.