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Health, Science & Environment

Two additional public meetings set for controversial Knox County solar project

A sign reads "No Industrial Solar" with "Preserve Knox County Ohio dot com" below.
Allie Vugrincic
"No Industrial Solar" signs line a road in Knox County's rural Miller Township. Neighbors in Miller and Clinton townships are divided when it comes to Fraiser Solar, a roughly 800-acre solar farm that would be split among 40 disconnected parcels in both townships.

So many people signed up to give testimony at a public hearing for a controversial solar project in Knox County that the state agency that regulates energy projects had to schedule two additional sessions just to get through the roster.

Frasier Solar is a 120-megawatt solar project proposed for a smattering of disconnected farm fields south of Mount Vernon, mostly in Clinton and Miller townships.

The project has divided neighbors and became the hot topic for the Knox County Commissioners Republican primary race in March. Two anti-solar candidates, Drenda Keesee and Bill Philips, won nominations to two seats.

Two opposition groups, including one seemingly well-funded group that declined to reveal its backers, formed to oppose the project. Several groups of neighbors have gathered to support it.

The Ohio Power Siting Board, which has the power to approve the project, has gotten more than 3,000 letters and emails expressing both support and opposition, according to OPSB spokesman Matt Butler.

With an overflow of speakers left from an April 4 meeting, OPSB has scheduled meetings for 5 p.m. on May 22 and May 29 at Knox Memorial Theatre in Mount Vernon.

OPSB will only hear from people who’d already signed up to speak in April, with the exception of public officials in the project area. More than 80 people are on the list.

“This, to my knowledge, is the first time we've had to schedule additional hearings, specifically to allow time for all witnesses to have a chance to speak,” Butler said.

Butler said, however, that robust participation from elected officials and the public “isn’t necessarily anything new,” when it comes to solar and wind projects.

“There's just a lot of passion out there on both sides of these issues,” Butler said. “There are folks who, you know, really want to see the advancement of clean energy projects. And there are other folks who, you know, are more supportive of the existing agricultural use.”

Butler said, in general, written comments and testimony at the April meeting for Frasier came in the form of support for clean energy, local tax revenue and personal property rights. Opposition focused on aesthetic impacts, potential noise and concerns about property values.

When deciding whether to approve a project, OPSB takes community comments into account to determine public interest, but it’s not the only criteria for approval.

After the two additional public meetings, OPSB will have an evidentiary hearing for Frasier Solar on Aug. 19 at 10 a.m. at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, located at 180 East Broad Street in Columbus.

Health, Science & Environment solar farmsKnox Countysolar energy
Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.