After listening to a litany of complaints by St. Albans township residents about the damage they perceive solar arrays would do to their rural community, the township Zoning Commission recently voted unanimously to recommend a ban on small and large solar farms.

Some of the concerns were about aesthetics and not wanting to look at fields of glass panels.

“It’s a very frightening picture in my mind, and I’m not going to stand for it,” said a St. Albans Township resident during a zoning commission meeting in January.

Another concern is the perceived loss of cropland – although there is a growing movement in the U.S. toward “agrivoltaics,” which involves raising animals such as rabbits and sheep, as well as produce under solar arrays. 

And three of the concerns – about potential toxicity of solar panels, that taxpayers would have to maintain them, and that Ohio doesn’t see enough sunlight to operate solar panels – are rooted in misinformation rather than fact.

The final decision about whether to ban solar installations rests with the St. Albans Township trustees and the Licking County commissioners. The township trustees will meet next at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13, in the Fire Station Community Room, 25 E. Main Street, Alexandria.

St. Albans Township is not alone in Licking County or the state in considering such a ban. Etna Township Trustees Gary Burkholder and Mark Evans voted Jan. 16 to ask the Licking County Commissioners to prohibit utility-scale solar farms within the township. Trustee Rozland McKee voted against the request.

The (Newark) Advocate reported after the Etna Township vote that “Evans said he believes prohibiting utility-scale solar farms is good for the area. He said the township already prohibited community-scale solar farms, which are between 5-50 megawatts, when it updated its zoning code in December. Evans said it makes no sense to ban those and not the more extensive utility-scale solar arrays.”

Etna Township trustees sent their request to the county commissioners because the township doesn’t have the authority to prohibit solar farms on its own, according to The Advocate. A state law passed in 2021 gives county commissioners the authority to prohibit or limit development of wind farms that produce more than 5 megawatts and solar farms that produce more than 50 megawatts. Smaller solar fields can be subject to local zoning regulations.

A year after the state law passed allowing local control, the Ohio Capital Journal reported that 10 of Ohio’s 88 counties had approved bans on large solar installations. All 10 of those counties are rural, and since then, at least three other counties have approved resolutions banning renewable energy installations – solar or wind, or both – in some or all of their townships.

The biggest concern raised by some of the couple dozen people who attended the St. Albans township zoning commission meeting on Jan. 11 is that solar panels could leach toxic chemicals into soil and waterways in the township.

Such misinformation has been floated on internet sites and social media, but it has been debunked by scientists in studies such as one by Parikhit Sinha, Robert Balas, Lisa Krueger, Andreas Wade that was published in the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Journal in 2012. Solar panels don’t contain liquids, and the 2012 study concluded that even when rain water washes over inert materials in broken solar panels, they release virtually no toxic chemicals while in use in solar installations. 

There are environmental concerns about the recycling and disposal of solar panels after they fail or when they reach the end of their usefulness and need to be replaced. But there are no such concerns among researchers about functioning solar panels in small or large installations.

A 2021 study by Anuj Krishnamurthy and Oscar Serpell at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at The University of Pennsylvania also concluded that functioning solar-panel installations produce no toxic pollution. The study said that aside from soil disturbance during installation or removal, solar arrays have virtually no long-term impact on the productivity of the land on which they are sited.

In fact, the 2021 study concluded that solar development on agricultural land “is increasingly becoming a financially viable and environmentally friendly alternative (to mineral exploration such as for coal or oil and natural gas) on American farmland. But realizing these co-benefits at scale will require a long-term commitment and innovative solutions from local, state, and federal policymakers.”

The University of Pennsylvania study concluded that “on-farm solar power eliminates many of the most serious environmental risks of oil and gas development and can, if deployed correctly, increase the productivity of crops and livestock.”

One obstacle to that, however, is “inconsistent regional land use policies, insufficient federal funding for development and research, and the inadequate availability of information. … The abundance of agricultural land in the United States could be a competitive advantage in national efforts to decarbonize, but until the necessary policy tools are leveraged, it is more likely to create unnecessary land competition.

The St. Albans Township Zoning Commission also heard concerns about the number of cloudy days in central Ohio, suggesting that potential solar arrays would be a wasted resource due to limited sunlight.

“I simply don’t think it would be enough to make it worth our while. I only see it making sense in areas like Arizona or California,” one resident said.

But proponents who build them say the cost-benefit analysis shows that it’s worth the investment – that the solar arrays produce enough electricity to more than pay for themselves.

Denison University, for example, receives 15% of its energy from 6,750 solar panels placed on land that is home to numerous flower species that are beneficial to pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

And some residents told St. Albans officials they were concerned that taxpayers would be saddled with the cost of maintaining solar arrays they called “public utilities.” While solar arrays installed by utility companies are regulated by public bodies, the companies and their customers are responsible for installation and maintenance costs.

Jack Wolf writes for, the nonprofit news organization of the Denison University Journalism program, which is funded in part by the Mellon Foundation and donations from readers.