Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and industry representatives from Hecate Energy, Liberty Power and other companies involved in the New Market Solar I & II project gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday at the farm of Doug Carraher on Stringtown Road between Taylorsville and Mowrystown.
Over 100 people turned out on the sunny day, including elected officials of local and county government and members of the Bright Local School District, to hear remarks about the project and the economic and environmental benefits it will bring to the region.
Officially known as Hecate Energy 4, LLC and Hecate Energy 2, LLC, the New Market solar farm project will occupy a little over 1,000 acres in Clay and Whiteoak townships in Highland County.
“Author Marty Rubin once wrote ‘the deep roots never doubt that spring will come,’” Jared Wren, development associate with Hecate Energy, told the assembled crowd. “And after five years of planning, partnering and working with the community, local farmers, and finally creating a unique partnership with the city of Cincinnati, we are standing here today, and spring has sprung.”
The importance of the project wasn’t missed on Thursday’s keynote speaker, Cranley, who called the Highland County facility “truly revolutionary, and the biggest project of its kind led by a city.”
“We are proving that clean energy works and clean energy creates jobs,” Cranley said. “And that clean energy can create wealth for landowners in Middle America — we are going to lead by example and others will follow.”
He said the solar panel farm would create nearly 160 jobs through the construction phase, averaging $62,000 annually through a project labor agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Although stressing the importance that the facility will have for Cincinnati, which will be the main customer of its generated power, he acknowledged that any energy policy for the state had to include the “traditional and historic energies of coal, nuclear and natural gas,” in addition to the clean technologies of wind and solar.
Michael Forrester, director of the Cincinnati Office of Environment and Sustainability, said the city will purchase the power via a “power purchase agreement,” meaning that it will purchase the electricity as its being generated by the solar array system over the time of the contract.
“If Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania were their own country, it would be the third richest energy country in the world,” Cranley said. “And yet Ohio is a net importer of energy — that’s crazy!”
Mike Bick, Bright Local School District superintendent, expressed his thanks and appreciation for those who will be bringing the solar farm to reality, and helping to provide what he called “a bright and positive future financial impact for students” in his district.
“These revenues will enhance the learning opportunities for our students both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities,” he said. “As a school district, we always strive to be good stewards of the revenues we receive.”
He said that local revenues had shown little increase in recent years, and described state funding as being in “a constant flux” while operational costs continue to rise.
“We look forward to a stable, dependable revenue source that this project, when completed, will provide,” Bick said, adding it is the district’s intention to partner with New Market Solar in the coming years.
One of three principal landowners in the project, Doug Carraher, said he was proud to be standing with everyone present for the groundbreaking after working with Hecate Energy for the past five years.
“We feel this is a great opportunity for Highland County,” he said. “Our goal is to provide Highland County with a new energy infrastructure and agricultural diversification of the land, and over $31 million going to the county over the life of this project. This commitment of stable and predictable income can only be when people say yes to putting these projects forward. We’re bringing economic hope to small-town America.”
Wren told The Times-Gazette that plans are moving forward for construction to begin in August on another of Hecate’s solar projects, the 300-megawatt Highland Energy solar farm to be located between Buford and just north of Mowrystown.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.