Highland Co. solar project meets resistance

The Times-Gazette

A proposed AEP solar energy project in Highland County expected to generate $6.7 million in local tax revenue and save customers approximately $200 million over the next 20 years is meeting resistance, according to a story in the Columbus Dispatch.

The project would result in 4,000 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs. A typical residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month initially would pay 28 cents more a month to pay for the plant, but that number is projected to drop over time and lead to credits on a customer’s bill, something opponents also dispute, according to the Dispatch story.

If approved by the state, the solar project could be operational before the end of 2021.

But consumers already have options if they want to power their homes with renewable energy, the opponents, including the Ohio Coal Association, Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, Kroger and the Consumers’ Counsel, said.

“If AEP Ohio retail customers value wind and solar generation, they can purchase it in the marketplace, as the Ohio General Assembly envisioned when it enacted laws deregulating the generation market, which would enable lower electricity prices and (incentivize) innovations for the benefit of customers,” a Consumers’ Counsel witness said in a filing with the PUCO, accordingto the Dispatch, “There are numerous competitive offerings of 100 percent green energy, including offers by AEP Ohio’s competitive affiliate, AEP Energy.”

The Ohio Coal Association is concerned that the plan could hurt the Ohio economy.

“When AEP Ohio customers pay more for electricity, they spend less on local businesses, hurting the local economy, reducing sales tax revenue, reducing employment, and discouraging new businesses from locating in Ohio,” the association said, according to the Dispatch.

AEP said in a statement that customers want more renewable energy resources in Ohio.

“Several dozen customers encouraged the PUCO to support our plan during a public hearing last month, and when customers were surveyed last fall, they told us it was important to use more renewable energy resources,” AEP said, the Dispatch reported. “Our plan to bring the largest solar farm in the Midwest to Appalachian Ohio would help us provide our customers across Ohio with the power they need and bring hundreds of jobs to the region.”

According to AEP spokesman Scott Blake, a 300-megawatt facility developed by Hecate Energy Highland LLC will take up 2,500 acres and be located approximately three miles northwest of Mowrystown. According to the solar jobs network, the facility is the largest solar project proposed in Ohio.

A 100-megawatt farm developed by Willowbrook Solar LLC will be located two miles east of Mowrystown in Concord and Whiteoak townships, Blake said.

In a letter to the editor published in The Times-Gazette, AEP Ohio President and CEO Julie Sloat said the selected sites have “some of the best sun in Ohio.”

Alan Stockmeister, a trustee of the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, and other officials, including Randy Drewyor of Bright Local Schools, held a press conference prior to the PUCO’s first public hearing on the projects to discuss their implications.

Evan Blumer, project director for the Appalachian Ohio Solar Jobs Network, said Bright Local Schools and the Lynchburg-Clay Local School District will benefit financially from the solar farms, and Drewyor, the Bright Local treasurer, said the projects would “greatly benefit” his district.

Drewyor said in a district where officials struggle to identify revenue sources for maintenance and improvements, economic stimulus from the solar project is much needed.

“Our school district works diligently to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “We’re working on facility issues in order to protect taxpayer investments and look for ways to reduce operating costs. More industry and jobs brought to our area through the solar project would greatly benefit our community, schools and students.”

AEP Ohio previously secured two 20-year Renewable Energy Purchase Agreements for the power produced at the two facilities, according to a news release.

Dan Sawmiller, the Ohio energy policy director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said veterans will be given preference in the hiring process.

“The commitment to create new manufacturing jobs and employ military veterans provides an exciting vision for Appalachian Ohio that we are proud to support,” said Sawmiller, a veteran himself.

The Times-Gazette