After returning from an executive session meeting with representatives of Hecate Energy on Wednesday, the Highland County Board of Commissioners announced that the company is looking at expansion of the solar power generating facility, including increasing its megawatt output by 35 megawatts or more.
Originally, Hecate rated the Mowrystown-area facility at 350 megawats (MW), but with the new expansion plans that number would go to 385 MW or higher.
There is also the potential, the commissioners said, of additional land acquisition on the project, which is located between Buford and north of Mowrystown.
A news release from the commissioners’ office stated that “in an effort to provide as much information as possible to the public, the commissioners want to share that, due to a recent agreement with the City of Cincinnati, Hecate will be increasing its megawatt output from its Highland County solar fields, at least by 35 megawatts and possibly more. Hecate anticipates groundbreaking on the solar project sometime next year, possibly as early as March. In the meantime, the company is finalizing surveys, working with property owners, and adding new joint stipulations to its case record. The company will come back to commissioners for new agreements in regard to the additional megawatts.”
The news release went on to say that “under the payment in lieu of taxes agreement, the additional megawatts will increase the revenue that will be received by the county, as well as the local school districts that are part of the project footprint, and other local entities that currently receive real estate tax revenue. While the company indicated that the existing footprint is sufficient for the additional megawatts, officials also indicated they are interested in acquiring additional land.”
In other news, the commissioners approved on a motion to increase the hourly rate of pay for court-appointed attorneys, with a resolution scheduled to be approved at next Wednesday’s meeting to make it official.
As part of Gov. DeWine’s budget, Duncan said counties that pay for their own indigent defense have been given permission to raise the rate paid to attorneys to as high as $75 per hour.
He said Highland County currently compensates court-appointed defense counsel at a rate of $45 per hour.
Britton said the recently enacted state budget funneled $60 million into the indigent defense fund, to raise reimbursements to counties to approximately 70 percent.
“Right now we’re paying $45, so there would be a reimbursement of 70 percent of that,” Britton said. “After looking at what the bar association was requesting, after a little bit of discussion, we felt that if we stick with the 70 percent reimbursement, it figures out to around $52 and some change, so we’re going to move that to $56 an hour, which is a little more than the reimbursement.”
He said that in raising the rate for indigent defense counsel, other monetary caps would require adjustment relating to different types of court cases, with Duncan adding that once the new fiscal year began it would be a good idea to “revisit this issue depending on how the state approaches it.”
Britton said the increase paid would not take effect until after the first of the year. However, the commissioners approved a motion to move forward with a resolution adopting the increase.
Also Wednesday, Abernathy said that funding through the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio was available for counties within its region, and that Highland County had not been an active participant in the past.
“They have reached out to us and we’ve met with them, but the first step is to put together a local foundation to take advantage of the funds,” Abernathy said. “We’re still waiting to hear back from some people to represent the county on a board, and we’re still looking for someone from the Mowrystown area — we’d like to move on this pretty quickly.”
He said the organization was involved in a wide variety of activities ranging from historic preservation to recreational construction projects, in addition to underwriting field trips for schools that otherwise don’t have the funding.
A local board of directors of up to eight individuals would review requests from the public, Abernathy said, and make recommendations to the FAO, with the foundation handling all of the legal work and logistics for each approved endeavor.
Representatives from Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, briefed commissioners on the organization’s mission with regional coordinator Barbara Lanctot sharing that last year nearly 3,000 of their shoe boxes came from Highland County alone, with the five-county region totaling more than 15,000 boxes.
This year’s goal is 17,000 boxes to reach more than 130 countries worldwide, she said.
Duncan read a proclamation saluting the organization’s efforts, proclaiming the month of November as Operation Christmas Child Month, and the week of Nov. 18-25 as collection week.
In other matters, four resolutions were approved and a pair of contracts were accepted.
One contract was between the Highland County Engineer’s Office and Palmer Engineering Co. for bridge replacement on Straight Creek Road over Baker’s Fork, while another was between commissioners and Helen Blair of the Home Investments Partnerships Program.
Editor’s Note: In regard to the story on Hecate and the solar projects in Highland County from Wednesday’s county commissioner meeting, the additional megawatts will be a separate project, seeking a separate payment in lieu of taxes agreement, a separate permitting process aside from the 300 megawatts already contracted to AEP, and separate from the current Ohio Power Siting Board certificate.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.