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'The People Have No Voice': Residents Unhappy To Be Surrounded By Solar Farms

The Hillcrest solar farm is the first of many projects planned for Southern Ohio, and the first one to begin operating.
Ann Thompson
The Hillcrest solar farm is the first of many projects planned for Southern Ohio, and the first one that will become fully operational.

With the realization that not one but multiple solar projects are coming, Clinton County, Highland County and Brown County residents worry about their future.

In the next few years there could be as many as five solar farms in Highland County. Another is soon to be operational in nearby Brown County with one more on the way. To the north, Clinton County is preparing for one.

This might seem great for green energy. In fact, the city of Cincinnati boasts it will have the largest municipal-led solar array project in the country. This will enable it to power all city-owned buildings.

But hold the farm - hundreds of Clinton and Highland county residents are opposed to the deals, and a small portion of them gathered at the Lynchburg Fire Station this week to talk about it with WVXU.

A mix of Clinton and Highland County residents gather to tell WVXU why they oppose the upcoming solar projects.
Ann Thompson
A mix of Clinton and Highland County residents gather to tell WVXU why they oppose the upcoming solar projects.

Pamela Pollit’s property will be surrounded by the Palomino and Dodson Creek solar farms. She feels blindsided. “I found a flyer thrown in my driveway, informing me that there was solar," she said. "So, of course I called them to see what’s going on. ‘Oh no, that wouldn’t be around your house.’ And by this time, I had spoken to my neighbor who said he had heard the substation was going to be in my front yard."

Pollit feels guilty that despite the projects she opposes, she felt she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to accept what the companies were offering. Her husband has cancer, and she had few options.

Residents Don’t Oppose Solar, Just What Comes With It

Misty Carter can think of a long list of negatives:

  • Loss of nature
  • Loss of farmland
  • Buzz of solar panels (residents were told it’s no louder than a microwave)
  • Constant pylon driving during construction from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Increase in temperature by 5 degrees for the region
  • Decrease in property value
  • Concern about the water supply since the solar panels must be kept clean

“We moved to get away and just be out here and be at peace. And you know, to be in nature. And now, they’re going to take that from us, and we were blindsided,” she says, breaking down in tears.
Janet Collins is helping to raise her grandchildren and must keep them inside because of the construction. “There’s going to be, like, 700-800 people going up and down these roads, back roads. I worry about them (her three grandchildren) and I worry about our water,” she says.

Why not put the solar panels where it’s sunnier, asks David Neuhaus? The retired civil engineer did the math based on statistics from the National Weather Service and discovered the area is only sunny 53% of the time. “So, 177 days the sun shines out of 365. If the plant was in Arizona, you would get at least 60% more power.”

The solar panels are bound to get outdated with technology, worries Steve Elam, who will be surrounded on all four sides of his house. “What do you do when they’re not good anymore? Rumpke’s not going to come get them.”

Options are limited for Highland County residents opposing the solar farms. Three were approved by the Power Siting Board before Ohio Senate Bill 52, allowing residents the right to reject them by petition if county commissioners approve such projects. Another, Dodson Creek, has filed the paperwork and is awaiting approval while a fifth, Palomino, still needs to file.

Few Ways To Fight

While Clinton County has an attorney involved, Highland County commissioners did sign a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) to get money upfront. In this case, it’s $7,000 per megawatt for schools, townships, libraries, etc., with an additional $2,000 per megawatt for the general county found.

Highland County Commission President Jeff Duncan says the Ohio Power Siting Board did a thorough review of the projects. “I think we have looked at that as a pretty robust review of whether or not it is appropriate, and would rely on them and their staff to make those kinds of determinations.”

Resident spokesperson Dave Gingrich says, “What irritates me is the people have no voice. They’ve not been listened to by their commissioners, by their governor, by the Siting Board.”

Commissioner David Daniels rejects that idea. “While we certainly recognize there are people that have concerns about this, we want to also take into account everybody’s feelings and how it affects them.”

Charlie Simpson, who started the opposing group’s Facebook page and will be surrounded on four sides by solar, says the fight is not over. He worries solar will take over many parts of the U.S. “It’s not just a little local outfit here in Southern Ohio. It’s growing and it’s going to get big. If I have to, I’ll take it to the Supreme Court.”

Updated: August 27, 2021 at 1:04 PM EDT
Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.