Anonymous Group Spreads Misinformation About Ohio Solar Project

The Energy and Policy Institute conducted research linking Knox Smart Development to The Empowerment Alliance, an organization associated with the natural gas industry.

Anonymous Group Spreads Misinformation About Ohio Solar Project

In a concerning development for the proposed 120-megawatt Frasier Solar project in rural Ohio, an anonymously funded group, Knox Smart Development, has been accused of disseminating misinformation.

The controversy unfolded during a recent town hall meeting hosted by the group, where approximately 500 attendees gathered to discuss the solar project. Project backers and concerned citizens have raised questions about the funding sources behind Knox Smart Development and its alleged ties to fossil fuel interests.

Knox Smart Development, incorporated just last month by local resident Jared Yost, who is a vocal opponent of the Frasier Solar project, organized the event on November 30. Notably, a representative from the solar developer, Open Road Renewables, was denied entry to the meeting, while the event featured speakers with connections to fossil fuel and climate denial groups.

One of the key concerns is the lack of transparency regarding the funding sources of Knox Smart Development. Yost acknowledged anonymous contributions but did not disclose specific details. “There are people with concerns who are helping us, and they’ve all asked to remain anonymous,” Yost stated.

The Energy and Policy Institute conducted research linking Knox Smart Development to The Empowerment Alliance, an organization associated with the natural gas industry. The Alliance’s ties to the fossil fuel sector were revealed through its connection to Karen Buchwald Wright, the board chair of Ariel Corporation, a company manufacturing compressors for the natural gas industry.

During the event, speakers included Tom Whatman, the former executive director of the Ohio Republican Party and chief strategist for Majority Strategies, the highest-paid contractor for The Empowerment Alliance. Another speaker, Mitch Given, advocated against renewables on behalf of The Empowerment Alliance in various counties.

The controversy also involves the Heartland Institute, a well-known climate change skeptic organization, with Steve Goreham, a featured policy expert on their website, speaking at the event. Goreham presented views against the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

Amidst the misinformation, concerns about the Frasier Solar project’s potential impact on agriculture were raised by Aubrey Bolender, a member of the Brown County Soil and Water Conservation board. Open Road Renewables’ representative, Craig Adair, was denied entry to the event, preventing him from addressing the concerns and presenting the company’s position.

Kathy Gamble, a supporter of the solar project, established Knox County for Responsible Solar to counter misinformation. Gamble challenged claims about solar projects affecting farmland and emphasized the economic benefits of such initiatives.

Ashley Labaki, a representative from IBEW Local 1105, criticized speakers downplaying the project’s economic advantages by citing the temporary nature of construction jobs. Labaki highlighted the importance of such projects in supporting local economies and providing employment opportunities.

Disinformation, as highlighted by Dave Anderson, the Energy and Policy Institute’s policy and communications director, has real victims. Landowners and farmers leasing their land for solar projects may face unjust attacks, potentially losing out on a new source of income.

The Ohio Power Siting Board is set to review the Frasier Solar project application, with a decision expected next year. As the controversy unfolds, advocates stress the importance of transparent funding and accurate information to ensure informed public discourse about the project’s potential benefits and drawbacks.