Former Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings spoke before the Highland County commissioners Wednesday concerning the ongoing solar farms debate.
As previously reported in The Times-Gazette, there are a total of 10 such electrical generating facilities either proposed, pending, approved or approaching completion in and around Highland County.
“I, like a lot of people, have been reading a lot out there about solar, and what’s coming in and the number of projects,” Hastings said. “And I started getting concerned about the county becoming inundated with these things and thinking we’ll end up an energy ghetto out here with projects on every corner with the county getting taken advantage of.”
But he told the commissioners that after doing his own research, his feelings went from being disturbed and concerned to recognizing something that he called “being historic almost for this county, with solar being just about the biggest business to come here.”
“It’s almost like Highland County is becoming the template for creating these large-scale utilities, and that’s a big deal,” Hastings said.
He sought clarification on Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), which Duncan said was a set formula between the county and energy companies.
“Other counties we’ve heard from have negotiated, but we felt like we wanted the maximum that the state allows,” Duncan said, confirming it to be $9,000 per megawatt for facilities over 50 megawatts.
During last week’s commissioners meeting, two road use maintenance agreements were executed between the county and Hecate Energy for the construction of New Market Solar I and II, rated to generate 100 megawatts of power, which Hastings said mathwise came out to $900,000 a year for the next 35 years in money for the county.
“You end up with a base amount of $7,000 per megawatt,” Daniels explained. “Then, if we approve the PILOT, we’re able to get an additional $2,000, with the first $7,000 being distributed under the same formula that we would normally use for tax receipts, and the last $2,000 then comes directly to the general fund.”
Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley stressed that about 60 percent of that $7,000 base would go to the respective school districts where the solar farms are located.
Hastings asked if the commissioners had made any budget “wish-lists” concerning the projected windfall the solar facilities have the potential of generating, with Duncan saying the board is taking a conservative “wait and see” approach.
“We haven’t seen any construction start in the county yet,” Duncan said. “We talked about a pipeline coming through several years ago and it never happened, so until we start seeing them unloading equipment we’re not going to start getting excited.”
Daniels said there was a lot of debate on the issue, especially considering recently introduced measures in the Ohio legislature that if signed into law, would give local townships and governments the ultimate say on whether a solar or wind farm could come to their jurisdiction.
“You’ve got people that are emotional on all sides of this,” Daniels said. “Whether its solar panels, a large-scale livestock operation, wind farms, a new road or the damming of a creek, people are looking at property rights and you have to balance that with public need.”
Also Wednesday, Fawley provided commissioners with the preliminary sales tax figures for March, and Duncan said the numbers show a continued revenue increase for both last year figures as well as year-to-date totals.
He said the county was $85,934 ahead of the tax figures compared with March of last year, and nearly $300,000 in positive territory in terms of year-to-date numbers when compared with the first quarter of 2020.
“We are still continuing to see an increase,” Fawley said. “Apparently, everybody is continuing to buy locally and we want to encourage that to keep happening because it’s good for the county.”
In other matters, four budget appropriations and line-item budget transfers were approved, in addition to a resolution authorizing the re-appointment of Robert Jackson as a trustee to the board of the South Central Ohio Regional Juvenile Detention Center.
Duncan was authorized to execute agreements with Johnson Controls for parts and labor on the five-year inspection with the Highland County Justice Center.
Another agreement was approved with Johnson Controls for replacement of a three-inch water pipe in a justice center court room.
A water pollution control loan fund agreement was also authorized.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.