Editor’s Note — This is the first of three stories on breakout sessions that will be offered during the eighth annual Ag is Everyone’s Business event on Feb. 24 at the Southern State Community College Patriot Center in Hillsboro.
Presented by the Highland County Chamber of Commerce, this year’s event will feature Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, who will speak on the important role Highland County’s agricultural industry plays in Ohio’s economy.
Following DeWine’s address, attendees will have an opportunity to hear from industry experts regarding solar energy, beef production and hemp production.
Chamber Executive Director Destiny Bryson said experts and representatives of the Willowbrook Solar Farm project, one of two projects being developed in the Highland County, will be on hand to speak about the project. The 150-megawatt Willowbrook project will be constructed and operate within approximately 2,200 acres of privately owned land about two miles east of Mowrystown. Construction will begin in 2020 and the facility is expected to be in service by the end of 2021, Bryson said.
Mike Volpe, vice president of Open Road Renewables, will be at Ag is Everyone’s Business to answer questions about solar energy and the economic impact the project will have on the local community.
Open Road Renewables initiated the Willowbrook project in 2016 and has one of the most experienced team of developers in the country, directly responsible for development of a total of more than 1,700 megawatts of renewable energy projects currently under construction or operating and hundreds more under development across the United States, Bryson said. She said Volpe and his team have been involved in some of the most challenging and exciting renewable energy projects, including the largest solar project of its kind in Maryland, which is currently under construction, and dozens of solar projects from Georgia to Maryland.
“We recognize that there are a lot of questions that folks have about solar energy because it’s a relatively new technology. Our goal is to work with folks to answer questions, make needed improvements to the project design, and find win-wins with the communities that we work with,” Volpe said.
Joining Volpe will be Will Eberle, director of government relations and external affairs for RWE Renewables Americas, LLC. RWE acquired the project from Open Road Renewables and will be the company that ultimately builds, owns and operates the Highland County facility. RWE Renewables is one of the largest renewable energy companies in the world, and has more than 12 years experience operating more than 30 utility-scale wind, solar and battery energy storage projects across the United States, enough to power around 2 million homes, Bryson said.
The Willowbrook Solar Project will consist of solar photovoltaic panels and will not use any fuel, any appreciable amount of water, and it will not generate any air pollution, water pollution, or hazardous waste. The equipment comprising the project will have very few moving parts and will make almost no sound. With only minimal disturbance of topsoil and few underground foundations, the project will require very few changes to the land surface and will productively utilize existing, open agricultural fields to diversify the income sources of dozens of area families, according to Bryson.
“Solar energy is a great option for Ohio farmers looking to add a steady stream of income for their families and diversify their crop portfolios. We’re looking forward to bringing this facility online and operating it safely and efficiently as part of this community for decades to come,” said Josh McNeely, project development manager for Willowbrook Solar at RWE Renewables.
Dr. Brooke Beam of the OSU Extension Highland County Office has been a partner with the chamber while making plans for this year’s ag event. While researching industry experts within Ohio State’s network, Beam will host “Solar Leasing 101: Understanding solar lease agreements and trends in solar energy production a week before for the ag event. The workshop is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 18 from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Highland County Administration Building Large Meeting Room.
OSU Extension Specialists Peggy Kirk Hall and Eric Romich will provide an informational program about leasing farmland for utility-scale solar production. Topics will include solar development trends, converting farmland to solar production, and key considerations to weigh before signing lease agreements for solar energy production. There is no cost to attend the workshop.
Beam will also be at the Agriculture Business Roundtable and will be available during the breakfast hour to answer any questions related to the workshop.
“The solar industry experts joining us will offer invaluable insight, specifically to the Willowbrook project and solar development around the country,” Bryson said.
Tickets for the event are $20 and include the breakfast, keynote speaker and breakout session. The chamber office is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and tickets can be purchased in person at the 338 W. Main St. office or by phone at 937-393-9111. Registration is also available through the chamber website at www.thehighlandchamber.com with your option to call with a credit card, mail a check or pay with cash.
Information for this story was provided by the Highland County Chamber of Commerce.