Leeward Energy plans to construct a $150-million, 150-megawatt solar farm north of Dunkirk. The above map from the Leeward Energy website shows the proposed footprint of the facility. (Leeward Energy)
Leeward Energy plans to construct a $150-million, 150-megawatt solar farm north of Dunkirk. The above map from the Leeward Energy website shows the proposed footprint of the facility. (Leeward Energy)
Rose Gold Solar plans continue to move forward.

Jay County Plan Commission on Thursday found Leeward Renewable Energy’s plans for a solar farm in the southwestern part of the county compliant with the current ordinance.

Leeward is planning “Rose Gold Solar,” a $150 million, 150-megawatt facility, on approximately 1,340 acres just north of Dunkirk. It is projected to generate about $30 million in property taxes over its 35-year life.

In July, Jay County Commissioners approved road use and decommissioning agreements with Leeward. Before construction can begin on Rose Gold Solar –– the company hopes to begin construction in 2022 –– commissioners and Jay County Council need to approve an economic development agreement with Leeward. (Invenergy, the first company to begin pursuing a solar farm in Jay County, agreed to pay the county $1.75 million in economic development payments over the course of four years for its Skycrest Solar facility.)

Eight area residents, mostly from rural Dunkirk, shared concerns about the effects a solar farm may have on the water supply, wildlife, traffic, value and appearance of the area.

“Now we’re going to have an eyesore,” said Doug Hobbick, who said he also has hog barns located behind his property. “If you want to build it, build it away from somebody’s house. Not 40 yards right out in front of my door.”

Bruce Fulkerson asked what landowners neighboring the panels would receive out of the project. Joseph Gutshall wondered how the solar farm would impact the wildlife, such as deer and turkeys that roam the area.

Another resident said if she had seen solar panels around the house she bought in rural Dunkirk a year ago, she wouldn’t have purchased it.

Kelly Pacifico and Kelly Inns of Leeward explained their company has done studies on the wild life impact and runoff concerns. With the vegetation planned for the area surrounding solar panels, Pacifico added, “it will actually be in a better condition than over-tilled soil.”

The solar panels also are built in encapsulated glass, she continued. All have been tested in extreme weather conditions, she said, and do not leak toxins.

Pacifico and Inns also noted property taxes will be reassessed at a higher value once the panels are in place.

Two women in the crowd voiced support for Rose Gold Solar.

“Considering all that’s happened … around the country, I think we’re in pretty good shape here, but I think we need to do stuff like this, install more solar panels, and maybe more wind turbines, to help,” said Portland resident Kathleen McClung. “I think we need to do everything we can to support the health of the whole community and country … I don’t think a couple fields with solar panels is going to effect wildlife.”

Rebecca Stafford of rural Dunkirk also said she doesn’t picture the farms damaging the local animal population.

“As long as they are environmentally friendly, I think it’s a win-win for the wildlife,” said Rebecca Stafford. “We all buy honey, but we don’t like bee stings. It’s all a package deal.”

Leeward operates 22 renewable energy facilities across nine states. Pacifico and Inns gave a short presentation about the project Thursday, noting that their company chose this area because of its proximity to a nearby American Electric Power substation and its relatively flat and dry status.

Leeward plans to add a 7-foot-tall fence and vegetation near the solar farm’s borders with residences and county roads. It will also plant pollinator-friendly seed mix beneath panels to keep the soil fertile and stable.

“Once operational, the site is really a low impact, passive use of the land,” Pacifico said, noting there is limited water consumption and no sewer usage. “Once operational, it’s a really quiet neighbor. You’re not going to have a lot of traffic … there won’t be any dust, odors, any things like that.”

The solar panels will be on single-axis trackers and stand at a maximum of 15 feet. Each panel is covered with tempered glass with an anti-reflective coating.

In response to the public opinions shared Thursday, plan commission member Steve Ford, told the crowd there was little to no attendance at public meetings when the current solar ordinance was drafted and approved in 2019.

“We never saw anybody,” he said, adding that other counties are now modeling their solar ordinances after Jay County’s. “It was our first attempt, and it may not be perfect, but if (Leeward) meet the standards, I would move we accept the (plan).”

Commission members Ford, Brad Daniels, Chad Aker, Scott Hilfiker, Dru Mercer and Mike Leonhard then approved plans for Rose Gold Solar unanimously.