From left, Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton are pictured at their July 21 meeting. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
From left, Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton are pictured at their July 21 meeting. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels have issued a response to residents sharing concerns or feedback on the various proposed solar farms in the area.

Since May, commissioners have received numerous letters and emails regarding solar farms, as reflected by the listed correspondence on their weekly meeting agendas. On the July 21 agenda alone, there were five items of correspondence related to solar projects.

The letters have increased since a public meeting held May 4 with public officials and concerned citizens from Highland and Clinton counties. For more on that meeting, go to: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Citizens-seek-answers-on-solar-farms/2/20/68458.

Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins previously wrote a letter in response to a citizen concerned about commissioners’ lack of intervention in the siting process for solar farms. That can be read at: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/UPDATED-Commissioners-OK-sheriff-s-vehicle-purchases-hold-bid-opening/2/20/69297.

On Wednesday, July 21, the commissioners’ office released the following letter to The Highland County Press, which they said was sent July 14 to “individuals who had previously sent us emails regarding the solar projects.”

Thank you for your concern about solar farms located in and around Highland County. Many people have asked our opinion on these, and we offer this as a statement.

It is important we reiterate that we have no authority over how utilities are sited in the State of Ohio. That responsibility lies with the Ohio Power Siting Board and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, as it should. The idea that 2,332 units of local government should have authority over statewide energy policy is not workable under any circumstance.

However, with the passage of Senate Bill 52, which becomes law in 90 days, the county will have additional input with the Power Siting process. It is our intention over the next three months to hold meetings with stakeholders to discuss what our process will be with any new request. It is important to understand that projects before the senate bill will be grandfathered in, and our part in those approvals will be limited.

It is also important to point out that our responsibility on operations over 50 megawatts is limited to two areas. First, whether to accept a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT). This is a more simplified taxing system that guarantees a stable revenue stream over the lifetime of the project. Understand that this is not a tax break; it changes the way taxes are paid. It has been our position we ask for the maximum amount allowable by law to provide the greatest benefit to the citizens of Highland County. The Road Use Maintenance Agreement (RUMA) is put in place to repair any damage to roadways that are caused by increased traffic because of the construction process.

We certainly understand that there is a great deal of emotion that surrounds these projects. The agreements that are made between landowners and the companies building the facilities are private matters between them and are allowable by law. In many cases, the lease or purchase of those property can make some of our landowners financially solvent and allow them to keep the land in their family and continue to farm the remaining acres. It is not our intent to interfere with the property rights that exist for those landowners and developers.

Do we believe that changes can and should be made to the power siting process? The answer to that is yes. The Ohio Legislature and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio should work to address some of the concerns that are being expressed. Issues regarding setbacks, concentration of facilities in each area, residents that are surrounded, sight and sound barriers, more local input and notification before projects start are areas that we believe should be discussed as an overall conversation of statewide energy policy. If you seek changes to these laws and rules, the Ohio Legislature has that authority.

The debates over renewable energy sources have been ongoing in the federal and state legislatures for decades. Many of the companies that Ohioans use every day are demanding renewable energy. The commercial-scale generating operations will locate where there is capacity in the power lines. While controversial, this can be an economic benefit to local school districts and other units of local governments that will allow them to make investments to benefit their students and local citizens.

Thank you for your opinion on this issue.

Jeff Duncan
Terry Britton
David Daniels