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An increasing number of solar farms is heating up Highland County's commission race

This is the solar farm benefiting the City of Cincinnati. It will be the size of 750 football fields.
Dave Gingerich
This is the solar farm benefiting the City of Cincinnati. It will be the size of 750 football fields.

It’s hard to miss the number of solar farms already built or under construction in Highland County, including Cincinnati’s, which is projected to be the size of 750 football fields.

WVXU covered the groundbreaking in May, 2021. It’s said to be the largest municipal solar farm project in the United States.

It is just one of 14 in Highland County. Others are planned for Clinton and Brown counties. Here’s a chart to see the projects.

They are also shown here:

Dave Gingerich

Republican Highland County Commission candidate Brad Roades told WVXU he couldn’t believe what he was seeing months ago. “I’m looking at this and I’m like, what in the world is happening, because all of our agriculture is kind of disappearing.”

He's one of three Republicans and two Democrats running for the seat Commissioner Jeff Duncan held. Duncan decided not to seek re-election.

“I’m not going to say that solar is bad. But solar has truly decimated parts of our landscape in Highland County and I feel very sorry for those who actually have just a few feet separating them,” Roades says.

The skyrocketing number of solar farms is one of the top issues in the commission primary race. Democrat Tara Matthews Campbell lives on a farm. She says this isn’t just a Highland County problem. “I was looking at statistics a few weeks ago and in 1935 the United States had almost 2 billion acres of farmland and in 2020 we’re down to 897 million.”

Matthews Campbell, Roades and another candidate — Republican Donita Everetts —worry that farmland is disappearing and that ultimately could lead to food shortages nationwide.

Everetts, a retired teacher, says you can’t trust the money promised. “Being in education, I remember being told the lottery was going to pay for education. It didn’t. Then we were told the casinos were going to pay for education. They didn’t. I can’t see how this would be any different.”

However, she and others don’t know, if elected, they would have the power to keep the planned projects from happening. They want to prevent future ones.

Residents are concerned they don’t have much say. Matthews Campbell says previous commissioners set the stage for all the solar farms. “They did pass a resolution. It’s pretty restrictive. It has some limitations on who actually even has a say. It has a property acreage minimum for you to even have a voice in it.”

Two other candidates running for the seat didn’t respond in time for this story. They are Democrat John Knauff and Republican Bill Myers.

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