Our testimony on the Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center

Note: The public hearing on the Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center, a 250 MW solar project proposed for southwest Franklin County, was held Monday, July 19, 2021. Here is testimony from our executive director, Cathy Cowan Becker.

Chair French and members of the Ohio Power Siting Board,

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you tonight. My name is Cathy Cowan Becker, and I am chair of Ready for 100 Ohio, a campaign of the Sierra Club to ask cities to commit to 100% renewable energy. I am also executive director of Simply Living, a Columbus nonprofit that promotes sustainability, environmental awareness, and our local economy. I am also a member of the sustainability committees for both Columbus and Grove City.

That’s a lot of titles, but at heart I am a climate activist, as well as a neighbor of the Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center – and in every one of these capacities, I strongly support this project.

As a climate activist, I am used to reading bad news about storms, droughts, floods, heat waves, and melting ice. But with increasing frequency a climate story crosses my desk that turns my stomach. Last week was such a story – of over 1 billion sea creatures – mussels, clams, sea stars, and snails – literally cooked to death by the heatwave in the Pacific Northwest.

I bring this up because Darby Creek, near where the Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center is proposed to go, is home to 44 species of mussels, some of which are rare or endangered. During my local conversations about how the Pleasant Prairie project might affect these species, I have rarely heard anyone mention the effects of the climate crisis.

Cathy Cowan Becker gives testimony on the Pleasant Prairie Solar Center on Monday July 19th.

Yet if left unchecked, the climate crisis will do more damage to Darby Creek, and the creatures that live in it, than this solar project ever could. I hope that you as members of the Ohio Power Siting Board will keep in mind the urgency of the climate crisis when making your decisions about renewable energy projects in Ohio, the sixth-highest carbon-emitting state.

I became a climate activist because of the enormous gulf between what the science says must be done and what we are actually doing to safeguard our health and environment.

In 2017 I founded the Columbus Ready for 100 campaign. With the help of other volunteers, we organized and led dozens of meetings and events; tabled at community festivals; held neighborhood dialogues; and collected over 5,000 signatures on our petition asking the city of Columbus to commit to 100% renewable energy.

One major step we see for cities in Ohio to reach this goal is electric aggregation for 100% renewable energy. We began talking to Columbus city leaders about this years ago.

Cincinnati has long been aggregated for 100% renewable energy, and Worthington took this step in 2018. But these cities began their programs by buying renewable energy certificates, or RECs.

RECs are not bad – they support renewable energy overall, and bring down the cost for everyone. But they are not the same as generating renewable energy at home. They send our money out of state instead of investing in our local community.

For that reason, Ready for 100 asked the city of Columbus not just to pursue aggregation for 100% renewable energy, but also commit to seeking local sources of renewable energy, through construction of renewable energy projects here in Ohio, preferably in Central Ohio.

And that’s exactly what the city of Columbus – as well as Grove City – did. Last year both cities put electric aggregation for 100% renewable energy on their ballots, where both initiatives passed by a landslide, committing these cities to 100% renewable energy generated here in Ohio.

The Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center is a perfect example of such a local clean energy project. But because of its location near Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park, which I visit at least weekly, I wanted to make sure the developer is adhering to strong environmental practices.

  • Through several conversations with project staff, I learned that Invenergy plans to:
  • Plant diverse native vegetation throughout the project site
  • Use wildlife friendly fencing
  • Increase setbacks and screening
  • Use anti-glare coating on solar panels
  • Leave the land in as good or better condition than it started in decommissioning the project.

I was impressed with the extent of public outreach Invenergy has done to hundreds of neighbors in the project area, through letters, phone calls, and door knocking. They have also met with numerous local officials, government agencies, and community groups. Because of input from these conversations, Invenergy has changed some of its project plans.

For those who have not seen Invenergy’s application for the Pleasant Prairie project, I urge them to go to the case documents. The application consists of thousands of pages in 25 parts covering all manner of environmental, economic, and social considerations.

The environmental benefits of the Pleasant Prairie solar project are clear. If approved, this project would generate enough clean electricity to supply almost 50,000 homes, reducing carbon emissions equivalent to taking over 54,000 gas cars off the road.

According to EPA calculations, moving to this much clean energy would lower pollution enough to cut health-care costs by $75 million, and result in 8 fewer deaths, 233 fewer cases of breathing illness, and over 2,300 fewer missed school days.

Besides the benefits to our environment, the Pleasant Prairie project is also an investment in our local economy. It would create 800 construction jobs, and four full-time operations jobs. Project developers would also pay millions of dollars in taxes to county and township governments each year to support our schools, libraries, and emergency services.

For all these reasons — as a neighbor of the project, as a climate activist, and as all the titles I mentioned — I strongly support the Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center, and urge you as members of the Ohio Power Siting Board to approve it.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify, and I would be happy to answer any questions.

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