A map of the Hecate project. (Maps downloaded from the Ohio Power Siting Board)
A map of the Hecate project. (Maps downloaded from the Ohio Power Siting Board)
Two major announcements involving the planned solar facilities in Highland County were released Thursday. The City of Cincinnati announced Thursday that “the largest municipal solar array in the country” will be constructed in Highland County to serve the city of Cincinnati’s residents and city facilities, according to a press release by the City of Cincinnati. Also on Thursday, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio issued an “opinion and order” rejecting AEP Ohio’s proposal regarding two solar energy projects in Highland County, claiming the company failed to “demonstrate a need” for the facilities.

In May the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) authorized Hecate Highland Energy, LLC to construct a 300-megawatt solar-powered electric generating facility in Highland County — one of two solar facilities approved in the county this year. According to the Ohio Power Siting Board, “This 300-megawatt solar-powered electric generation facility will occupy up to 1,919 acres within a 3,400 acre project area about 3.2 miles northwest of Mowrystown,” in the Buford area.


As previously reported by The Highland County Press, Highland County commissioners announced after their Wednesday, Oct. 30 meeting 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.”

Highland County commission president Jeff Duncan told The Highland County Press Thursday that they already met with Hecate Energy representatives to discuss the company’s deal with the City of Cincinnati.

“We met with Hecate, and the City of Cincinnati has contracted with them to provide energy for the city,” Duncan said. “The city of Cincinnati has asked for them to furnish them with additional electricity. At this point, they want to increase another 35 megawatts, which they have enough footprint to do without expanding what they already have.

“They have to go back to the Power Siting Board to request an additional 35 megawatts. It’s the same process to establish the other megawatts.”

Groundbreaking on the facility is slated for sometime in 2020, possibly as early as February or March, Duncan said.

“The electricity for the city of Cincinnati will be coming out of that solar field down around the Buford community,” Duncan said. “They also indicated that could grow. Right now, they’re looking at 35 megawatts to go to the city of Cincinnati, but possibly in the future that could increase.”

The following is the City of Cincinnati’s announcement, courtesy of https://www.cincinnati-oh.gov:

The City of Cincinnati will construct the largest municipal solar array in the country to provide clean, renewable energy to all City facilities and serve the City’s residents through the Cincinnati Electric Aggregation Program. Once complete, the 100 mega-watt solar array will reduce the region’s annual carbon emissions by 158,000 tons.

“Cities need to take action – and that’s exactly what Cincinnati is doing. We are spending money we would already spend on power to buy lower-cost renewable energy that also benefits the community,” said Mayor John Cranley.

The contract is a power purchase agreement which means the City will not pay any upfront costs toward the actual construction of the solar farm. The contract also enables the City to purchase electricity at a fixed rate for the full 20 years of the contract, which will help hedge against any future electricity price increases. The agreement was facilitated by the World Resources Institute and Rocky Mountain Institute’s Renewables Accelerator, through support from the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge.

“Cincinnati was selected as a winner in the American Cities Climate Challenge because of Mayor Cranley’s commitment to ambitious and impactful climate solutions— solutions which not only reduce carbon emissions, but also protect public health and create jobs. This offsite renewable deal is the latest example of Cincinnati's ambition turned into achievement,” said Antha Williams, head of environmental programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Cincinnati is showing how cities are leading the way to our clean energy future and paving the way for others in the region to follow suit.”

The 100 MW solar farm will be installed roughly 40 miles east of downtown Cincinnati in Highland County, Ohio. The combined 100 MW solar array will be approximately 1,000 acres, or the equivalent of 750 football fields, and contain more than 310,000 solar panels. To put that into perspective, the solar array will provide enough electricity to power 25,000 homes every day. Moving to this solar set up is the equivalent of keeping 157,000,000 pounds of coal in the ground every year, removing 30,000 cars form the road annually or planting 2.4 million trees every year.

“Cincinnati is a bright spot for clean energy not only in Ohio but among cities across the country that are leading the way to a more sustainable future,” said Daniel Sawmiller, Natural Resources Defense Council’s Ohio energy policy director. “Today’s announcement of a significant city-led solar energy development creates a crucial economic opportunity for the Ohio and sets a new bar for cities that have committed to 100 percent renewable energy across the country.”

In conjunction with Cincinnati State and IBEW Local 212 this solar development will implement a workforce skill and hiring program that will put Cincinnati residents to work on the project.

The 35 mega-watt array to serve the City of Cincinnati facilities is scheduled to go into service in December 2020. The additional 65-megawatt service to benefit residents through the Aggregation program has a tentative go-live date of December 2021.

"We commend Mayor Cranley for his leadership on renewable energy and the city's bold action on climate," said Heather Taylor-Miesle, executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council.

• • •

Also announced on Thursday, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio issued an “opinion and order” rejecting AEP Ohio’s proposal regarding two solar facilities in Highland County according a press release from the Sierra Club and information on the PUCO website.

As previously reported in a press release by AEP Ohio, in September 2018, AEP Ohio “filed a proposal … with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to support the development of 400 megawatts (MW) of new solar generation resources in Ohio by purchasing renewable power for AEP Ohio customers. The 300 MW and 100 MW facilities will be constructed in Ohio’s Appalachian region in Highland County.”

According to the PUCO opinion filed Thursday, “The Commission finds that the long-term forecast report of Ohio Power Company d/b/a AEP Ohio for 2018 … fails to demonstrate a need, under any offered definition of the term, for at least 900 megawatts of renewable generating facilities, pursuant to R.C. 4928.143(B)(2)(c). Accordingly, phase II of these proceedings will not be necessary.”

The September 2018 filing by AEP Ohio was “seeking approval of the inclusion of two solar energy resources totaling 400 MW of nameplate capacity in the Company’s Renewable Generation Rider (RGR), as well as approval to establish a new Green Power Tariff under which customers may purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) for the solar energy resources’ environmental attributes,” according to PUCO. “The Company has executed 20-year renewable energy purchase agreements (REPAs) for the energy, capacity, and environmental attributes associated with two solar energy projects to be constructed in Highland County, Ohio.

“AEP Ohio further states that, although the solar facilities would be operated on its behalf, the Company would be responsible for the dispatch of the resources in the wholesale markets. AEP Ohio requests that the Commission find that it is reasonable and prudent for the Company to enter into the REPAs associated with the two solar energy projects and that the Company should be authorized under R.C. 4928.143(B)(2)(c) to recover through the RGR its REPA costs and debt equivalency costs for the life of the facilities.”

A number of public hearings and evidentiary hearings were held, which concluded in February 2019, as reported by Krile Communications. The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy (OPAE), with the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, were among those testifying in support of the project alongside AEP Ohio, according to Krile Communications.

However, the PUCO wrote in their entry filed Thursday that AEP Ohio failed to meet their “burden to demonstrate that there is a need for at least 900 MW of renewable energy, consistent with the requirements of R.C. 4928.143(B)(2)(c).”

“By its own admission, AEP Ohio concedes that there is not a need for at least 900 MW of generation based on “traditional” integrated resource planning projections,” PUCO wrote. “The Company also acknowledges that there is not a need for at least 900 MW of generating capacity to meet reliability requirements, nor does AEP Ohio require additional renewable energy credits to satisfy the Company’s state renewable energy requirements. AEP Ohio also admits that PJM and wholesale markets are adequately supplying capacity and energy to the AEP Ohio load zone.”

According to an article by Jeremy Pelzer at cleveland.com, “The ruling doesn’t mean the projects – a 300-megawatt and a 100-megawatt solar farm in Highland County – are automatically dead. But it means that AEP Ohio will now have to try to find an alternative way to pay for them, such as entering into agreements with individual companies that use large amounts of power.”

Pelzer added that “the facilities are now two of the six solar projects eligible for subsidies under the recently-enacted House Bill 6.”

For more on Pelzer’s story, visit: https://www.cleveland.com/open/2019/11/state-regulators-reject-aep-ohios-attempt-to-charge-customers-for-massive-solar-projects.html.

The 77-page PUCO document can be viewed at: http://dis.puc.state.oh.us/TiffToPDf/A1001001A19K21B61059J03417.pdf.

March 19, 2019 meeting notes: