Ohio greenlights massive solar, storage and agrivoltaics project

Oak Run will be Ohio’s largest solar installation and the nation’s biggest agrivoltaics project, spanning 6,000 acres and totaling 800 MW.
By Eric Wesoff

  • Link copied to clipboard
agricultural fields
Madison County, Ohio (Ohio Farm Bureau)

The Ohio Power Siting Board has given the go-ahead to what will be one of the largest solar farms in the United States, despite the opposition of local governments and citizens.

The gigantic $1 billion endeavor, the largest solar project in the state by far, will spread over 6,000 acres of farmland in staunchly Republican Madison County. Some of the acreage is owned by Bill Gates, according to reports. When completed, it will be the nation’s largest demonstration of agrivoltaics, which combines farming and solar generation on the same plot of land.

The proposed project, dubbed Oak Run, also includes a massive array of batteries that will allow the plant to keep dispatching firm power even when the sun isn’t shining. It’s being developed by Savion, a unit of Shell, and boasts 800 megawatts of solar panels and 300 megawatts of energy storage.

Utility-scale solar is the engine of the U.S. energy transition, driven by robust market growth and continued cost declines. While Texas, California and Florida are the leaders in U.S. solar power generation, Ohio is a dark horse that ranked fifth in installations in 2023 and is poised to rise in the overall state rankings, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

But as solar power generation grows in the state, so has local opposition.

The Oak Run project has sparked a particularly heated conversation at the grange, with hundreds of public comments pouring into the OPSB website. The vast majority of Madison County — 88 percent — is designated as farmland, with the primary crops being soybean and corn.

Here’s a recent and somewhat representative comment on the OPSB project comment board: We don’t want any solar in Madison County. It’s a waste of 5,000 acres of farmland. Tell Bill Gates to put it in his own backyard. Not ours. Absolutely disgusting.”

While the project will spur millions in revenue and economic activity in the region every year, the residents of the townships closest to the installation have voiced disapproval of the proposed solar farm, citing loss of farmland, rural character and property values, as well as potential environmental impacts.

The OPSB has the final say over what power plants get built in Ohio and has already approved several smaller utility-scale solar farms in the county in the face of similar opposition.

Although many citizens oppose the Oak Run project because they fear it will threaten the agricultural legacy of the region, the proposed site includes 2,000 acres devoted to farming and grazing.

The contentious debate has pitted local township governments and residents against proponents of the project, including labor unions, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and environmentalists. These groups support the jobs, revenue and clean power the plant would provide. The project will create thousands of jobs in the yearslong construction phase, along with over 60 long-term positions in operations and maintenance — a point not lost on labor union members.

Patrick Hook, business manager and financial secretary of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 683, submitted this comment: Members of IBEW 683 are excited to have opportunities to work close to home, allowing them to return to their families for dinner after a hard day’s work.”

It is estimated that the project will generate $7.2 million every year in new revenue for the county and surrounding townships and school districts over its estimated 35-year life.

Construction of Oak Run is expected to begin in 2025.

This won’t be the last time that solar farm construction at the utility scale proves to be a divisive issue in American farm country. Between 2017 and 2022, solar installations on U.S. farms increased by 30 percent, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture.

In order for the U.S. to eliminate fossil fuels from the grid, projects like Oak Run must continue to get built, no matter how heated the debate around them gets.

Correction: This article originally identified Royal Dutch Shell” as Savion’s parent company. The oil and gas supermajor now goes by Shell.”

Eric Wesoff is the executive director at Canary Media.