Franklin County may see a 2,000-acre solar farm in 2023
Invenergy, a Chicago-based solar company, wants to build a solar-powered, 250-megawatt electric generating facility in Pleasant and Prairie townships in western Franklin County.
Josh Hreha, Invenergy development manager, outlined the proposed project last week for the Big Darby Accord Advisory Panel. The panel reviews site development plans and zoning applications in the Big Darby watershed to make sure they conform with the watershed protection accord and renders nonbinding opinions to jurisdictions where projects are proposed.
The proposed Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center would be a 2,000-acre solar farm located south of Broad Street on the east side of Darby Creek Road, north and south of Kuhlwein Road, and east and west of the Columbus Southern Power Company power lines in Pleasant and Prairie townships. If the solar farm is constructed, Hreha said it will provide enough electricity to power almost 50,000 homes annually.
"We're very early on in our due diligence, information-gathering phases," Invenergy spokesperson Ben Lambrecht said. "We have to design and fine-tune our layout and aspects of the project further."
The site currently is made up of single crop and sod farmland. While landowners look to produce solar energy as part of the 30-year lease, which could extend to 40-45 years, there is no local or county jurisdiction over zoning. Instead, Invenergy will go through the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) for approval.
The solar company is pursuing a certificate from the OPSB to build and operate the facility. Under Ohio law, electric generating facilities capable of generating more than 50 megawatts must apply for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need from the OPSB.
Hreha said the company will look to formally submit documents in the first quarter of 2021, which he anticipates will be reviewed for nearly a year by OPSB.
If approved, the OPSB will issue a certificate for the construction, operation and maintenance of the facility. Construction could begin as early as spring 2022 with the facility beginning operations in late 2023.
Lambrecht would not disclose how much construction of the facility would cost. However, SolarReviews.com, a solar industry website, reports that solar farms typically cost between 82 cents to $1.36 per watt to install. The 250-megawatt farm Invenergy proposes would be equal to 250,000,000 watts, according to a megawatts to watts conversion table at rapidtables.com. That would place the plant construction cost at between $205 million and $304 million.
Landowners who lease their land for a solar farm can earn between $250 to $3,000 per acre annually, according to SolarReviews.
Nearly $4.4 million will be invested in Franklin County each year through new taxes and landowner payments over the life of the project, Invenergy says. At peak construction, Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center is expected to employ as many as 800 people — 80% of which are required to be in-state labor forces.
After construction, the project will employ up to three people to oversee the operations and maintenance of the facility.
Invenergy plans to use a diverse mix of native plantings with long roots at the site, including under the panels, which will prevent soil erosion, improve soil health and reduce phosphorous runoff in stormwater that flows into Big Darby.
At the end of the facility's 30-year lifespan, the solar panels are removed and decommissioned as required by law and the land is returned to its original condition.
Jim Schimmer, director of Franklin County's Economic Development and Planning Department, said he and others have been working to bring green energy generation to the county since the county and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission undertook the Franklin County Energy Plan in 2018.
"A major component of our economic development strategy has been positioning the county to be at the forefront of the new energy economy," Schimmer said. "We believe that the production and use of clean power will help attract new companies and assist existing ones for the future.”
Although the project will comprise roughly 2,000 acres, Lambrecht said the space used to house the solar farm will be smaller, as companies typically sign up for more land than necessary to account for "unbuildable areas" – forestry, wetlands and other barriers.
Hreha said the solar farm will have bifacial panels to collect solar rays from both sides. The panels will sit atop piles driven into the ground and have solar trackers to trace the sun and collect all available solar energy.
In the coming weeks, local landowners and stakeholders will receive notification letters on how to participate in the project further via public information meetings and the OPSB process.
With future meetings, Prairie Township Administrator Rob Peters said he and other officials will look to determine the potential impact of the project from an aesthetic, economic and environmental standpoint.
"We look forward to learning more about the project and obviously are hopeful Invenergy works closely with the adjacent property owners so they can minimize the impacts on those who chose to live in the surrounding area of the project," he said.
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A longtime resident, who asked to remain anonymous due to the limited information available on the solar farm, said she was upset and overwhelmed upon hearing about the project.
Having lived across from the project site for nearly 50 years, she said she is concerned about the potential impact during construction.
The 80-year-old resident was offered a one-time payment of $2,500 for "inconvenience" and $1,000 annually in case of further interruptions. But until she hears more information about the project, she said she isn't completely opposed.
"Maybe it's not as bad as we're conjuring up," she said. "Who knows?"
The next public information meeting will be held virtually at 6 p.m. Monday. The presentation can be viewed online at www.invenergypublicmeetings.com. For phone access, dial-in toll-free at (877) 229-8493 and enter access ID code 11973