Local residents oppose Painter Creek Solar project at Darke Co. Parks Commissioners’ meeting, APEX open house


By Tammy Watts


GREENVILLE — Concerned residents filled the Darke County Parks District Board of Commissioners meeting on Dec. 9, to voice concerns over easements the Parks District granted to Apex Clean Energy for the Painter Creek Solar project. Citizens also wanted to know where the Parks District now stands in the legal process to potentially get out of the contract. Fran Chrisman of the Darke County Citizens Preservation Association (DCCPA) provided Parks Commissioners with a list of attorneys. “Come to the citizens for levies; we have supported you for years,” Chrisman stated. “Your three easements allow them (Apex Clean Energy ) to connect the dots to a grid,” she added. Darke County Parks District agreed to grant three easements to Apex at $4,000 each, for a total of $12,000. So far, they have received payments of $1,000 per easement, for a total of $3,000.

“It wasn’t about the money, it was a utility request, which we are accustomed to granting,” said Parks Commissioner Tina White, who indicated they were under the impression that it was for private property use, and not aware of the scope of the proposed project.

John Beard, advisor to the J. Michael Beard Community Fund of the Darke County Foundation, stated that his family’s fund did not donate to the Parks District, as it had in years past, due to the easement agreements.

Jerry Miller, another resident whose property will be impacted by the proposed solar farm, raised safety concerns about counterfeit solar panels. In October, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol seized a shipment of 1,000 solar panels from China that bore false trademarks, and were not lab certified. Counterfeit solar panels are constructed with substandard parts, which may result in reduced power generation, and pose increased electrocution and fire risks. Another of Miller’s concerns was the potential negative effect on wildlife, particularly federally protected bald eagles which nest near the project. According to a 2016 study, as many as 138,000 birds die each year from collisions with solar equipment. While many birds die from accidents with vehicles, buildings, and other objects, the losses were significant enough for the Department of Energy to award Argonne National Laboratory $1.3 million to research and monitor bird behavior around solar panels in order to reduce avian mortality.

“They wanted two of my farms,” stated Terry Lindemuth, “and I wouldn’t sign. I won’t do that to my neighbors.” Applause followed, and a woman in attendance thanked him profusely, overcome with emotion. Many in attendance complained they will be surrounded on three sides by solar panels, should the project be implemented. Residents are also worried about future implications. “Apex Clean Energy is required to decommission the solar farm at the end of the leases, per a bond held by the state of Ohio,” stated Drew Christensen, public engagement manager for the project.

“But exactly how does the decommissioning process work?” asked an audience member. “There are 300 posts per acre, will they be dug up, or buried, or what?” Christensen offered no further comment.

The DCCPA focused on the Parks District Board of Commissioners, as the Darke County Commissioners are not able to take any action until the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) issues certification for the project. Apex will submit a certificate of application to the OPSB in February 2022, according to Christensen.

Apex Clean Energy held an open house the same evening, and many in attendance at the Parks Commissioners’ meeting left immediately for the event. During the open house, Apex representatives were available to answer questions and provide information about the benefits of a solar farm in Darke County. According to literature provided, farmers who lease their land for solar use receive $400 to $800 per acre annually, several times more than what they usually make by farming or leasing to tenants. “Money isn’t everything,” stated Terry Lindemuth. “An acre of solar panels means an acre of food that we can’t grow.” Lindemuth also discussed the risk to drainage tiles with Development Manager Dalton Carr, of Apex. “We map every single main, and are liable for any flooding for the life of the project,” Carr told Lindemuth.

Another recurring question had to do with locating a solar farm in Ohio, where there are many cloudy days. Painter Creek Solar website states that on a cloudy day, solar panels generate 10-25% of their typical output. Carr explained that the best-case scenario for solar panels is 35% efficiency. According to greencoast.org, the most efficient solar cells in existence have achieved an efficiency of 50%, but only in a lab setting.

The DCCPA was disappointed that the open house was geared toward one-on-one conversations, rather than a town hall forum, where everyone would be privy to all questions raised, and the responses from Apex Clean Energy.

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