Ten days after hearing some of his constituents in Lynchburg express their anger about a trio of solar panel farms proposed near their village, state Rep. Shane Wilkin returned to his hometown Friday to hold office hours in the Lynchburg Administration Building.
Many of those at the May 4 public forum held at the Lynchburg fire station called for Wilkin to support House Bill 118, which along with companion Senate Bill 52, would give local townships the right to hold a referendum on whether to allow utility-scale wind and solar farms into their locales.
“As it is written, I don’t support it,” Wilkin told The Times-Gazette. “Last year, this bill was just a wind bill, and one year later solar has been added. It’s the responsibility of anybody in statewide government to look at what are the precedents and the long-term ramifications if this goes forward.”
HB 118, according to the Ohio Legislature website, would allow the referendum process to go one step further by permitting township voters to overturn a decision of the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) if it ruled in favor of construction, operation or maintenance of a utility-scale energy facility.
Wilkin said that another dangerous aspect is the consideration of making the legislation, if passed, retroactive to an earlier date, which would mean that facilities either under construction or already operational could be forced to shut down and be removed under a local referendum.
He said that he received a copy of the second draft of HB 118 last Tuesday evening, which was followed a day later by a third draft of the 18-page proposed measure.
“The bill, as it sits right now, carries a lot of statewide opposition,” he said. “The Farm Bureau was against it, the Ohio Townships Association was against it, along with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and many of the oil and gas people, and folks are quick to say ‘those are big businesses that you’ve sold out to.’ Well, you have to realize the job creators are businesses, and I haven’t sold out to anybody.”
Figures supplied by Wilkin showed that both the New Market Solar Farms, which had a ground-breaking ceremony last Thursday, and Highland Solar, which prime contractor Hecate Energy indicated would initiate construction in August, will create a new revenue stream that Highland County can use over the course of their 35-year leases.
New Market Solar I & II, at 100-megawatts, would pay $900,000 annually to the county, while Highland Solar’s 300-megawatt facility would generate $2.7 million annually, meaning that both would pay over $31 million in taxes over the life of the projects.
A substantial amount of the tax revenue would directly benefit the Lynchburg-Clay and Bright Local school districts, a point that wasn’t missed upon Wilkin when he said “poor education follows poverty.”
“Let me say that neither Lynchburg-Clay nor Whiteoak are in poverty, and they are outstanding schools,” Wilkin said. “But we’re not Upper Arlington or Indian Hill either, so having money to do more things with is good thing for our local schools, and it will be very difficult to bring anything into the area that would in turn pay that much to the schools or the county general fund.”
Wilkin was equally passionate about a bill he referred to as “The Business Fairness Act,” a measure he co-sponsored with fellow representative Jon Cross from Kenton, which would allow any business that could comply with any future state safety orders or regulations to stay open.
He bristled at the suggestion that House Bill 215 was a moot point with the recent announcement by Gov. Mike DeWine that nearly all of the COVID-19 health regulations would be lifted on June 2.
“This was the number one issue for retailers and independent businesses that they wanted to see cross the finish line,” he said. “It’ll guarantee some predictability for our ‘mom and pop’ businesses across the state, in that if we say Kroger and Walmart can remain open with thousands of people coming in every day, why can’t a little store that has maybe 50 every day stay open as well.”
Greenfield City Manager Todd Wilkin echoed that sentiment in May of last year when he remarked that “when big box stores are able to stay open and small businesses are not, there’s a problem.”
He stated as an example that he could go to Walmart to buy his wife a necklace for Mother’s Day, but couldn’t go to a small, local jeweler to make the same purchase.
Wilkin said that the Business Fairness Act was important enough that it had a companion bill in the Senate, which passed by a unanimous vote.
He said it was originally introduced last year as House Bill 621, and also passed the Ohio House with strong bipartisan support, and that he was looking forward to DeWine’s signature on it soon.
In an over-the-weekend news release, Wilkin took issue with DeWine’s so-called “Vax-a-Million” vaccine lottery campaign, stating he was “nothing short of stunned” to learn of it.
“As a member of the Controlling Board, to use these federal funds in this manner was neither outlined nor explained in any funding request, and without a doubt, was not expected,” Wilkin said.
He concluded by stating that the restrictions that were implemented last summer “unfairly hurt Ohio’s small community businesses by picking winners and losers — this lottery is doing the exact same thing.”
Changes were announced Monday to the Vax-a-Million campaign by both the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Lottery.
Those who want to be part of the drawing must opt-in by registering where before it was announced registered voters would be entered automatically.
There will be five weekly $1 million prize winners, in addition to drawings for full college scholarships to Ohio schools, which will include tuition, room and board.
The tuition can be for any public college or university, community college, technical or trade school.
The actual drawings for the lottery will take place two days before the 7:29 p.m. drawings so that officials can verify the winner has had at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and is eligible to win.
The deadline for the first drawing is Sunday, May 23 at 11:59 p.m., and lottery officials stressed that winnings are taxable.
The health department said that the prize money will come from unspent federal coronavirus funds.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.