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Aerial view of a flock of sheep grazing in a solar farm with solar panels in Spain. // Getty Images via Ohio Capital Journal

VOICES: A chance to turn the tide against the fossil fuel shutdown of solar farms in Ohio


By Gary Houser, Ohio Capital Journal

A momentous victory for our children’s future and the green energy transition of Ohio was won on March 21 when the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) approved the Oak Run solar farm in Madison County just west of Columbus. When completed, it will be the largest-scale demonstration of “dual use/ agrivoltaics” in the country. This term refers to the mutually beneficial use of both agriculture and solar panels on the same land. Oak Run will become a national learning center.

With the transition to clean renewable energy being absolutely vital to the hope of protecting our children’s future from a climate collapse and breakdown of global life, it is stunning to the point of taking one’s breath away to observe the callous manipulations of fossil fuel interests as they take increasingly Draconian steps to shut down solar farms out of a concern they are a threat to profit margins. It is as if their own kids and grandchildren don’t live on the same planet.

The next big battle comes to a head this Thursday when the OPSB is holding a public hearing in Mt. Vernon — just northeast of Columbus — in regard to the Frasier solar project. Anyone who read Kathiann Kowalski’s chilling account for Energy News Network — reposted here in the Capital Journal on Dec. 20 — will know that those fossil fuel interests have been “pulling out all the stops.”

That report detailed how an ornate historic theater was rented — at no small cost — and locals enticed with free food, drinks, and books to attend an event billed as a so-called “town hall meeting” — a concept originating in New England consideredthe most open to the people… the purest form of democracy.” But this program was not open and democratic. When someone tried to attend to offer a different view on solar, entry was denied.

After this act of outright censorship, it was all downhill into a perspective systematically distorted by misinformation. The “facts” on climate change were explained by a representative from the Heartland Institute — an organization made infamous by its work for the tobacco industry to twist the truth about the health impact of smoking, and has been doing the same on climate for 20 years.

The audience was denied any opportunity to learn that the entire world is already evolving toward “dual use/ agrivoltaics.” It is not just “theory.” Japan has more than 1,000 applications and it is quickly spreading throughout Europe and India. This three-minute video shows it “in action” in a way impossible to refute.

The most prominent argument raised by the opposition is that “solar farms take land out of agricultural production.” Yet the solar developer — Open Road Renewables — has now signed a contract committing to opening up a full 800 out of the total 840 acres to what would become one of the largest sheep grazing operations in Ohio. As its website states: “Virtually all of the acreage used for solar power production … will also remain in full agricultural production…. in between, beneath, and around the rows of solar panels.”

When a rep for the “Knox Smart Development” group that sponsored the event was asked where the funding was coming from, it was said that the sources preferred “to remain anonymous.” But if one searches an earlier “archived” version of the KSD website — available here — and clicks on “Empowering America,” it leads to “The Empowerment Alliance” (TEA) — a dark-money group aligned with the gas industry. One of the other speakers at the event — Mitch Given — publicly supports natural gas. Elsewhere, Given said the Alliance takes a hard line against renewables.

It is also stated that: “TEA supports increasing exports of methane gas.” Science reports warn that methane is not only an almost incomprehensible 80 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas in its first 20 years, but there are massive leakages from gas facilities and pipelines.

In this final day before the hearing, the vested interest of the gas industry stands more nakedly exposed than ever. In spite of the above-mentioned agreement committing the project to dual use — pointed out to the community in a rebuttal by this writer to an editorial and published in the local newspaper — the opposition continues to crank out the “loss of agriculture” line in its attempt to “pack the hearing room with 1000 people.” This is a deliberate omission of the fact the developer has now moved in the precise direction the opponents claim to advocate. There is no way to describe this other than a willful intent to deceive.

This community has been un-necessarily plunged into conflict. Citizens have a right to know that Frasier is offering a WIN-WIN solution whereby solar panels peacefully co-exist with the continued agricultural use of land.

The OPSB has been directed by state law to make decisions based on what serves the public interest of the people of Ohio. It will now be pressured by an entire theater full of solar opponents. But when a piece of misinformation is repeated over and over, it does not become any more accurate or true. It is still misinformation.

The Board is directed to engage in an ethical quest for truth. It must discriminate between those motivated by vested interest and those whose only motivation is to provide a ray of hope for our children who will otherwise have to suffer the desiccating droughts, food shortages, mass migrations, and governmental breakdowns that will occur because grown-ups failed to act before a climate tipping pointwas crossed.

The Oak Run victory is a glimpse of hope that the tide is turning in Ohio. The process for participating in the Ohio Power Siting Board’s Mt. Vernon deliberations is described here.

Gary Houser is a volunteer with Agrivoltaics Solutions, working to raise awareness about how dual use solar can be a win/win in Ohio; has been a Christian faith-based advocate on the climate crisis for 15 years; and produces educational videos on climate tipping points.

The Ohio Capital Journal is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to connecting Ohioans to their state government and its impact on their lives. The Capital Journal combines Ohio state government coverage with incisive investigative journalism, reporting on the consequences of policy, political insight and principled commentary.

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