Why is Ohio pushing away millions of dollars in solar energy development?

By: - June 15, 2023 4:40 am

Workers install solar power modules for producing electricity on the roof of a house. (Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

Solar energy developers want to spend millions of dollars investing in Ohio, but the state won’t let them. Now, some lawmakers are trying to challenge the anti-solar narrative.

Ohio has become a hot spot for green energy developers, with nearly 10 solar applications pending. Although these companies want to invest multi-millions, they can be blocked in just one meeting.

“They’ve chosen that they want to be able to lease that part of their land for energy production,” Sarah Spence, executive director of Ohio Conservative Energy Forum, said. “Shouldn’t they be allowed to do that?”

Any utility-scale solar project in the state must receive permission from the local government to build. That means that even if the landowner and the energy company agree to use private property for solar panels, county commissioners can veto it and ban all solar projects from the entire area.

“If we’re going to do this, there’s going to have to be more effective partnerships and more voice and more discussion and input on how these happen,” Dale Arnold with the Ohio Farm Bureau said.

Some farmers fear land will be overrun by solar, Arnold added.

Other farmers argue the project will only impact their land, perhaps using solar to save the family farm for generations, Spence responded.

OCJ/WEWS asked Arnold why shouldn’t the landowner be allowed to have solar panels on it’s on private property. He said he understood the argument. It’s one that is dividing his community.

“We have concerns with regard to soil, water conservation, protection repair, remediation of farm ground after construction is done, use of local roads, taxes, community benefits [and] the ability for local governments and community stakeholders to be involved more fully into the process,” he said. “What’s going to happen beyond your fence line, and the watershed, and the community.”

Arnold isn’t anti-solar and acknowledges the benefits the energy source can provide. However, many farmers and citizens in rural areas are adamantly against it.

Spence understands where Arnold is coming from but argues that local governments should be able to veto project-to-project instead of just a blanket ban.

OCJ/WEWS reached out to utility-scale facility developers and the state coalition representing them. However, none were available or interested in speaking.

Changing the narrative

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying to change Ohio’s anti-solar narrative.

Republican state Reps. Jim Hoops (Defiance) and Sharon Ray (Wadsworth) introduced House Bill 197, joined by another colleague and representatives across the aisle.

H.B. 197 would establish a community solar pilot program, allowing homeowners to use green energy without installing panels.

“The pilot program created under House Bill 197 is really good, equitable energy policy,” Nolan Rutschilling with the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund said.

The bill, in total creates a 1,750 MW program, split up into three categories.

  • 1,000 MW spread across all of Ohio, allocated by customer base for each utility
  • 500 MW spread across Ohio focused on the redevelopment of distressed sites
  • 250 MW for the Appalachian area’s distressed sites in a standalone program

Rutschilling explained this would reduce utility costs and power anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 homes. It could also bring great economic development, he said.
The community solar pilot program would account for roughly 3% of Ohio’s overall generation, he added.

“Solar projects will save folks money, they reduce pollution and they make sure we have less blackouts on our energy grid,” he said.

There is currently a fluorescent nuclear stain on Ohio. Former Ohio House Speaker, and now-convicted-felon, Larry Householder sold out the Statehouse for millions in exchange for bailouts for FirstEnergy’s struggling nuclear power plants and Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC) coal plants. The main beneficiaries from this were American Electric Power Company (AEP), Duke Energy and AES Ohio.

“We’re still bailing out these fossil fuel sources that have had a stranglehold on our economy and our energy system for way too long,” Rutschilling added.

It’s time for a change, he added.

The Farm Bureau has concerns about H.B. 197, mainly that it wants local governments to be able to have more say in the development.

“Many township trustees, zoning, appeals boards, county commissions are saying, ‘we don’t have the zoning to do this, the prerequisite requirement,’ Arnold said. “I need better tools, more management, more ability to talk and discuss more protections for my community stakeholders going forward.”

It would be ideal to have the same ability to veto community projects, he added.

The free market is moving towards renewables like wind and solar, Spence said.

“If we have the ability to produce our own energy within the state, we should be able to do that,” she said.

That bill will likely be heard in the coming months.



This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.