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Solar Farms Are Rapidly Growing In Southwest Ohio

Courtesy of Intergex
From left: Brown Co. Commissioner Barry Woodruff, Ohio Energy Policy Dir. Dan Sawmiller, House Speaker Larry Householder, First Solar's Alex Heard and David Little of Innergex.

Farmland all across Ohio is being transformed into thousands of acres of solar panels to provide businesses and households with green energy. Much of the development is in the southwestern part of the state, and on March 12, the first project under construction held its official groundbreaking.

It's called Hillcrest, and is in Mt. Orab. It has plans to be the largest solar farm of the six projects planned in Southwest Ohio. When finished at the end of 2020, Hillcrest will provide the energy needs for 39,000 households annually. Innergex, the company managing the project, says this solar farm will bring long-term economic benefits to Brown County.

Two other such projects in Southwest Ohio have been approved and can begin construction. Willowbrook and Hecate are both in Highland County. Hecate has contracted with the city of Cincinnatito create the largest municipal solar farm in the U.S. run by a city.

In November, Mayor John Cranley spelled out how it will work when finished in 2021. "We will be aggregating out of 700 megawatts a year roughly 75 megawatts to be part of this initial array. About 25% of your home energy will now come from this solar renewable source.

The solar array consists of  310,000 solar panels and will cover about 1,000 acres in Highland County. This clean renewable energy will power all city facilities and serve Cincinnati residents through the Cincinnati Electric Aggregation Program.

Another solar farm, Nestlewood, is near the Clermont/Brown County line. Two others are in Preble County -Alamo and Angelina. Approval from the Power Sitting Board is still pending on those three projects.

Here is a map of all the planned solar farms in Ohio.

Why All The Solar Farms?

Director of Business Development at Open Road RenewablesDoug Herling told the Dayton Daily News, "Until recently, solar did not make sense in Ohio. The technology is vastly more efficient and can now compete with wind and coal."

Open Road Renewables is the company which has applied to build two solar arrays in Preble County.

David Little, with the company building Hillcrest in Mt. Orab, says, "Southwest Ohio has a perfect topography for solar. It's nice and flat. It's very buildable. There's not a lot of disruption."

Not Everyone Is On Board

Brown County Auditor Jill Hall is taking a "wait and see" approach. "There's still a lot of what we don't know out there. They keep saying there will be 'this amount of money.' From my calculations we are three years away from getting any money. So if things arise in the meantime, how are we going to be able to take care of them?"

Credit Innergex
The official groundbreaking of Hillcrest, even though construction started in January.

She says people ask her how this will affect their property values and they worry about how the construction vehicles are tearing up Brown County roads.

Little says Hall has legitimate concerns. "We have a very detailed construction road use agreement done with the authorities to make sure everything is done properly and put back to its original state."

Look for other Ohio solar farms. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio says there is interest in Pickaway County south of Franklin County. The PUCO is keeping a close eye on the projects. They have prohibited one utility company, AEP, from passing on the cost of two planned solar farms in Highland County to its customers.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.