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Health, Science & Environment

Union County residents voice concerns over a proposed solar farm

 Union County residents meet with developers to voice concerns over the proposed Richwood solar farm.
Tyler Thompson
/
WOSU
Union County residents meet with developers to voice concerns over the proposed Richwood solar farm.

A proposed 250-megawatt solar farm by Samsung in Union County will span 1,500 acres of farmland, and many residents are unhappy. At an open house this week, people met with developers to voice their concerns as feasibility studies on the land will start this summer.

The Leesburg Township Fire Department.
Tyler Thompson
/
WOSU

The open house at Leesburg Township Fire Department was packed with residents from around the county. People gathered in groups to vent concerns to Samsung developers and ask questions.

One worry is potential damages from construction to underground tiling, typically found on farmland. It moves water to prevent flooding on properties and is a critical piece of infrastructure for farmers.

“We have a lot of drainage issues as it is and the field tiles in Union County are not well marked,” said resident Keith Engel.

Engel is one of the many Richwood-area residents who will soon live next door to solar panels as an increasing number of people lease out their land to Samsung.

“We’re concerned that we’re going to get a lot of flooding in our area, a lot of damage to our septic systems, things of that nature,” he said.

It’s a concern echoed by others. Samsung project manager Chris Simmons said it’s been on their radar.

“We don’t want any adverse effects on neighboring properties and we want water systems and drainage working properly and we don’t want standing water on the solar farm itself,” Simmons said.

The Ohio Power and Siting Board will decide if the project will be permitted once there is an application. It requires a detailed mitigation plan for any damages to underground drain tiles. Simmons said they want to avoid that tiling altogether.

“Now, when you install the panels with piling driving and steel racking, we know that the lateral tiles would be hit," Simmons said. "And that is our main concern as far as mitigations.”

That information will become clear when feasibility studies start this summer. Another issue raised by folks, like Engel, is the possibility of decreased property values.

“It’s a huge concern," Engel said. "You know, some places say 'oh it doesn’t decrease that much'. I’ve seen up to 35% [decreases in property values] on properties adjoining solar fields.”

A study by an appraisal company in North Carolina, found “little to no impact to property values” for properties adjacent to solar panels. A similar study by an advisory firm in Illinois, found “no consistent negative impact” to adjacent properties.

People also have more aesthetic concerns. Like the proximity of panels to their homes and if they’ll be clearly visible. Simmons said the panels will be 300-feet from neighboring residents with a vegetative barrier that will sandwich a chain-link fence.

“No razor wire or anything like that," Simmons said. "So it’s typically a six-foot-tall chain-link fence. On the outside of that is essentially a flowerbed that’s going to have evergreens, something local, native to Ohio.”

Simmons said that after three to four years of maturity, it should be thick enough to hide the solar panels.

Some people still felt that there’s been a lack of communication from Samsung.

Samsung C&T America (SCTA) met with local officials on in July 2021 that

The open house at Leesburg Township Fire Department was packed with residents from around the county. People gathered in groups to vent concerns to Samsung developers and ask questions.
Tyler Thompson
/
WOSU
The open house at Leesburg Township Fire Department was packed with residents from around the county. People gathered in groups to vent concerns to Samsung developers and ask questions.

Samsung C&T America (SCTA) met with local officials on July 2021. That included representatives from Union County, Marysville Economic Development Partnership, County Commissioners, Claibourne Township, Leesburg Township, Taylor Township, North Union Schools, Union Sewer Water and Conservation District, Village of Richwood, and Union County Engineer. 

It also held a Meet and Greet in September last year at the Leesburg Township Fire Department. The meeting included community members, commissioner Dave Burke, Leesburg Township Trustee Jeff Robison and Union County assistant prosecuting attorney Thayne Gray.

And it’s why resident Keith Engel started to attend more meetings.

“We’re trying to stay informed and know what’s going on in our community," Engel said. "I actually started going to all of our township trustees’ meetings, just because I had no idea this was even happening till I saw it on Facebook. And Facebook is not a good media source.”

Samsung plans to submit its application this October once feasibility studies are done. It will cover environmental wetlands, soil stability, underground tiling and any other effects from proposed construction. If its approved, construction would start in 2026.

Developers say they will host a public information meeting within 90 days of the permit application.

Developers present a project timeline for the proposed Richwood Solar Farm.
Tyler Thompson
/
WOSU
Developers present a project timeline for the proposed Richwood Solar Farm.

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Tyler Thompson as a reporter and on-air host for 89.7 NPR News. Thompson, originally from northeast Ohio, has spent the last three years working as a Morning Edition host and reporter at NPR member station KDLG Public Radio and reporter at the Bristol Bay Times Newspaper in Dillingham, Alaska.