Darke County residents voice thoughts, concerns over proposed solar farm

DARKE COUNTY — A renewable energy company wants to turn 1,200 acres of farmland in Darke County into a solar farm.

County commissioners invited people to share their thoughts and concerns Monday night, where nearly 100 people showed up.

Some people said they are concerned that Apex Clean Energy’s Painter Creek Solar Project will be going up in their backyards.

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Joyce Conrad lives on Folkerth Road in Greenville and says her century-old farmhouse would be flanked by the solar project on three sides.

“We oppose this project as we do not feel it is in the best interest of Darke County and all of its residents,” Conrad said during the meeting.

Apex’s Field Manager, Tyler Fehrman, listened to peoples’ concerns.

“You may not be growing corn, wheat, or beans on this field during the period of this lease, but you’re farming something. You’re farming a different crop and in this case, it’s a natural resource that’s clean and exists,” Fehrman said.

The company said the solar panels will generate enough energy to power 34-thousand homes.

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Over 30 years, Apex said it would pay $1.1 million dollars in taxes to Darke County.

During Monday night’s meeting, none of the residents who spoke were in favor of the solar farm.

Some speakers expressed concerns about how the solar panels would look and feared farmers could lose their land.

“Many farmers are worried about passing on their farms to future generations because it’s such a tough business, and yet here is a way to get extra income per acre on that farm that may keep it in the family,” said Bob Brecha, a University of Dayton professor who teaches clean and renewable energy under UD’s Hanley Sustainability Institute.

“There’s a fear of losing farmland, I have to counter that with looking at the amount of farmland that’s been gobbled up by houses and strip malls over the last 20-30 years I’ve lived here,” Brecha said.

Fehrman stated that solar panels can easily be removed and the farmland stays.

“It keeps it in the family and we see this all over,” Fehrman said. “Like Darke County, if Dayton starts to creep this way folks don’t want to see their valuable farmland turned into strip malls and housing developments.”

Fehrman says the company is in the process of completing studies required by the state.

They will then submit their research to the Ohio Power Siting Board as an application for a permit in late summer or early fall.

The project can not be vetoed by the Darke County Commission.

If approved, the solar project could be in operation by early 2025.