By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Attorney and Director, Agricultural & Resource Law Program
A long process to update Ohio’s regulations for solar energy facility development has nearly reached its end. On July 20, the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) adopted new rules that include revisions to rules that apply to solar facilities under its jurisdiction—those that have a nameplate capacity of 50 megawatts or more. The rules will next go to the Ohio legislature’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) for a final review before they can become effective.
The OPSB began the rules review in 2020. The process included stakeholder meetings, public workshops, a draft proposal of revisions, and a review of comments to the draft rules. Many parties and interested individuals followed the process, and the agency received formal input from 20 parties and over 400 informal public comments. The OPSB recognized that the rules review “inspired a robust discussion from numerous interested stakeholders.”
What are the proposed changes?
OPSB summarizes the rule changes it adopted as follows:
- Public information: Siting project applicants must host two public informational meetings for each standard certificate application. The first meeting will describe the scope of the project. The second meeting, held at least 90 days before an application filing, will focus on the specifics of the application.
- Site grading: Applicants must provide a preliminary grading plan that describes maximum graded acreage expectations.
- Drainage and field tile: Applicants must describe and map field drainage systems and demonstrate how impacts to those systems will be avoided or mitigated, describe how damaged drainage systems including field tile mains and laterals will promptly be repaired to restore original drainage conditions and describe the data sources and methods used to obtain information for field drainage system mapping.
- Vegetation management: Applicants must prevent the establishment and spread of noxious weeds within the project, including setback areas, during construction, operation, and decommissioning. Applicants must provide annual proof of weed control for the first four years of operation with the goal of weed eradication significantly completed by year three of operation.
- Noise: Noise limits for renewable energy facilities cannot exceed the greater of 40 decibels (dBA) or the ambient daytime and nighttime average sound level by more than 5 dBA.
- Surface water protection: Solar energy facility applicants must develop and implement a stormwater pollution prevention plan, a spill prevention control and countermeasure plan, and a horizontal directional drilling contingency plan, to minimize and prevent potential discharges to surface waters.
- Fencing: Solar energy facility perimeter fencing must be small-wildlife permeable and aesthetically fitting for a rural location.
- Setbacks: Solar energy facility panel modules must be setback at least 50 feet from non‑participating parcel boundaries, at least 300 feet from non-participating residences, and at least 150 feet from the edge of the pavement of any road within or adjacent to the project area.
- Regulatory: Compliance monitoring and reporting requirements to ensure applicants meet the commitments and conditions contained in each OPSB certificate.
What happens next?
Parties have 30 days from the July 20 adoption date to file a request for a rehearing on OPSB’s decision to adopt the rules. A rehearing request to OPSB must be based upon an argument that the rules are unreasonable or unlawful. Absent a rehearing request, the OPSB will forward the rules package to JCARR, a committee consisting of five representatives and five senators from the Ohio legislature. JCARR must hold a public hearing to hear comments on the rules between 31 and 45 days after receiving them, then must review the rules to ensure they don’t exceed OPSB’s authority, conflict with existing rules or legislative intent, and include analyses of fiscal and business impacts. The committee will next either approve the rules or recommend invalidation of some or all of the rules by the Ohio legislature, and both the House and Senate would have to pass resolutions to follow JCARR’s invalidation recommendations. If JCARR approves the rules, they’ll go into effect right away.