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The largest solar energy farm in Ohio was just approved. Here’s what to know

Two large solar panels in a grassy plain
Courtesy of Savion Energy
Solar panels from one of Savion Energy's other solar developments in Madison County, Madison Fields

The Ohio Power Siting Board approved a 6,000 acre solar energy project in Madison County on Thursday, March 21.

Known as Oak Run, it’s the largest solar power generation facility approved in Ohio to date, according to a review of approved projects, and possibly one of the largest in the country.

However, some local elected officials and community members aren't happy with the decision.

State officials support its construction

Oak Run in Madison County was first proposed to the siting board in 2022.

Since then, a variety of elected officials, advocacy groups and community coalitions have weighed in. More than 1,000 public comments have been submitted regarding the project.

Following its approval, the Oak Run 800 megawatt solar farm, transmission lines and a 300 megawatt battery storage site are now poised to be constructed in Monroe, Somerford and Deercreek townships.

The siting board approved it by a 7 to 2 vote. The project was recommended for approval by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2023.

The siting board's decision was based on the public input, the company's application and the positive tax and economic effects of the project, according to a PUCO spokesperson.

The opposition votes came from appointed board members who live near the project area.

Local dissent on more solar projects

The trustees from the townships have opposed the project. People have cited multiple reasons why they believe the project shouldn’t move forward, including concerns of it ruining the aesthetics of the community and feeling as though they aren’t being fairly compensated.

Jim Moran is a Somerford Township trustee and one of the dissenting siting board members. He said it’s not unprecedented that the board denies projects with heavy local opposition.

“In a similar scenario, they denied the application. (That’s because) the board concluded that unanimous and consistent opposition to the project by the government entities existed,” Moran said before the board issued its decision.

Madison County Commissioner Chris Wallace was the other dissenting board vote.

“If this board is to approve this project, they would be doing so in the face of strong local opposition, spitting in the face of Madison County voters,” Wallace said.

In Madison County, the issue of solar became politicized. A county commissioner who supported the project, Mark Forrest, was recently ousted by a candidate who ran a largely anti-solar campaign, Brendan Shea.

“I will be working closely with the commissioners and trustees to ensure a timely appeal is filed,” Shea wrote on his official Facebook page.

Madison County commissioners didn't respond to requests from WYSO for comment.

Madison County was previously designated an Alternate Energy Zone in 2016, which streamlines the process for green-lighting alternative energy projects in a particular area. This designation was repealed in 2022.

“The Alternate Energy Zone was rescinded since Madison County had four approved projects, more than any other county at that time, and felt that solar in the county had reached its maximum capacity. If Oak Run happens, we’ll have a total of five projects in the county,” Madison County Administrator Rob Sloan said in an email.

A map with red highlights
Courtesy of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
A map of the proposed project area. The red highlights are where the solar panels are intended to be constructed.

Environmental groups in favor of the project

Oak Run will feature an agrivoltaic program. This means the areas around the solar panels will be used for planting crops and raising livestock. The state said it will be the nation’s largest utility-scale agrivoltaic site.

Nearly 50 conditions were included in the approved application that the developers, Savion Energy, must follow.

Karin Nordstrom is the clean energy attorney with the Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide environmental advocacy group. She said the organization worked with the developers to ensure it’s built responsibly.

“Wildlife permeable fencing, wildlife corridors and commitments to planting Ohio native and pollinator friendly (plant) species, as well as commitments to restoring the farmland to pre-construction nutrient and density levels, which all contributed to our support,” Nordstrom said.

Oak Run is estimated to produce an annual revenue of $8.2 million for local governments and schools, as well as the creation of construction jobs and maintenance positions across Madison County.

The date for construction is yet to be determined, according to Savion Energy.

“There is a lot of work yet to do to prepare a project for construction. We look forward to continuing work with the county and the state of Ohio,” a Savion spokesperson said in an email.

Adriana Martinez-Smiley (she/they) is the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Reporter for WYSO. They grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in June 2023. Before joining WYSO, her work has been featured in NHPR, WBEZ and WTTW.

Email: amartinez-smiley@wyso.org
Cell phone: 937-342-2905
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