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Business & Economy

As Delaware County Pushes To Restrict Solar Farms, Farmers And Advocates Oppose The Rule

solar panels

Last week, Delaware County commissioners took the first step to restrict solar and wind projects on privately owned property. But while some support these changes, others — including some Delaware County Farmers — oppose them.

On Oct. 11, a new state law took effect. It gave county leaders the power to create “restricted areas” in the county where solar and wind farms cannot be built. These areas can be designated in any unincorporated land in the county.

The Delaware County commissioners met that same day. And all three commissioners agreed to begin the process of setting up county-wide land restrictions for solar and wind projects.

County commissioner Jeff Benton said at the meeting he’s heard no interest in solar and wind projects from the local agricultural community, especially when it comes to leasing their land to companies.

“They’re reluctant to engage in a transaction like this because it would tie up their land for 20 to 30 years,” Benton said.

Commissioner Gary Merrell said that the county should move forward with creating a blanket rule, and just deal with individual projects that can be appealed to them when they come along in order to “protect landowners’ rights.”

In a statement over the phone, Merrell added the commissioners are not trying to restrict solar and wind projects, but instead set up a process for landowners and companies.

But some property owners still oppose the move. Glenn Harsh is a fifth-generation farm owner in Delaware County, and the owner of Glenndale Farms. And he said it’s frustrating with county leaders telling them how they can use their land.

“I would say a majority of rural landowners and farmers would agree that we don’t want our rights restricted as to what we can use our land for, what we can sell it for in the future, and what we can develop it into,” Harsh said.

 Glenn Harsh, owner of Glenndale Farms in Delaware County.
Michael Lee
Glenn Harsh, owner of Glenndale Farms in Delaware County.

And that’s what Sierra Club volunteer Cathy Cowan Becker heard from other farmers across the state when she went to testify against the then-bill at a senate hearing in May. Becker is the chair for the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign that asks cities to use 100% renewable energy.

Additionally, she said with Ohio being a high carbon emissions state, the new law stacks the deck even higher against renewable energy in Ohio. In 2018, Ohio was seventh in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“And so this law, we had a lot of solar farms that were already in the process, and a lot of them were grandfathered in," Becker said. "But for new solar developments, it could be very difficult.”

The new state law does allow community members to go to the ballot to overturn restrictions on solar and wind farms. But Harsh said that just gives more work to farmers during what’s an already busy harvesting season.

“Anything extra that we have to do to collect signatures or spend time going to meetings or council meetings and that type of thing, is a burden on our operation, that’s for sure,” he said.

And for Harsh, the Delaware County commissioners are setting a dangerous precedent for future restrictions. He referenced a bill currently in the Ohio House that would restrict whether farmers can expand or build new livestock facilities.

“What’s next after that? Are they going to tell me that I can’t put up another machine shed?" he said. "It just depends, whether it keeps setting precedents for the next step of restrictions on our land use.”

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.