Courtesy of Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley
Courtesy of Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley
As an Ohio resident for more than half a century, it puzzles me that anyone would invest his own money in an Ohio "solar farm." If the sun shines bright for more than 10 days from October to March, I must have missed it.

A recent Farmer's Almanac report calls Ohio the eighth cloudiest state in the U.S., with about six sunny days per month. That seems generous.

Let me also acknowledge that I know about as much about solar energy as Hunter Biden knows about natural gas.

That said, it's been interesting hearing from people – mostly opposed – regarding two proposed solar projects in Highland County. The online comments from readers have been similarly negative.

As recently reported, two major announcements involving the planned solar facilities in Highland County were released in November. The city of Cincinnati announced 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.

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.

Highland County commissioners announced after their 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.”

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

Thinking about this solar energy project from a political standpoint, maybe it's a positive step in the right direction for warm, bipartisan cooperation.

Think about it.

Highland County is a county whose government is controlled by the Republican Party – and it has been for years. The state of Ohio's government, likewise, has been controlled for years by the Republicans.

Now, GOP local and state politicians are cooperating (i.e. "investing") with the chief strategy officer for Hecate Energy in Ohio.

That CSO happens to be David Wilhelm, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who supported Ohio House Bill 6.

Wilhelm also managed political campaigns for Democrats Richard Daley, the late Sen. Paul Simon, former President Bill Clinton and and former Vice President Joe Biden.

How about that?

Let the era of renewed political bipartisanship begin in Highland County, Ohio! Ds and Rs together in perfect harmony. Who knows, after this example, maybe Jim Jordan and Adam Schiff will be going out for cocktails and giggles after the impeachment vote

Of course, anytime taxpayers' dollars and best interests are at stake, the devil is in the details.

As it is, the so-called green energy projects across the nation have had their ongoing ups and downs like sunrises and sunsets.

In 2015, it was reported that $1 billion in green energy loans defaulted under the Energy Department program, which included the infamous Solyndra stimulus project and other programs the Obama administration approved. Loan defaults totaled $30 billion in taxpayer funds, the Government Accountability Office reported.

Clearly, billions of taxpayer dollars and related subsidies have been spent on solar boondoggles – and some successes.

Perhaps technology and productivity have improved greatly in the past four years. Perhaps some day in the not-too-distant future, purely private-sector funding will recognize a sufficient return on investment as to not need any government assistance.

In a 2015 Forbes article (https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2015/02/25/solar-energy-delivers-too-little-bang-for-billions-invested/#231e06ea49f3) David Williams, president of Taxpayers Protection Alliance, wrote: "Two tirelessly-touted workhorses of the 'renewables revolution,' wind and solar, combined generated roughly 2.2 percent of America’s electricity. Wind accounted for just over 1.6 percent of that share and solar just 0.6 percent. The tiny share of power they did produce was unreliable, impractical and still not really cost competitive if you subtract the direct and indirect subsidies, coming from all levels of government, that keep this teetering house of cards from falling over."

Thus, even if solar energy productivity has increased 1,000 percent, the solar share would still be only 6 percent today. It's not even close to 6 percent, however.

An October 2019 report (U.S. electricity generation by energy source) by the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows a grand total solar output of 1.5 percent.

According to a Taxpayers Protection Alliance report (https://www.protectingtaxpayers.org/), "Subsidies available for solar power at the federal and state level come in a variety of forms. Most importantly, they are unreasonably generous. Much like the government-created housing bubble, the policymakers’ goal to increase renewable energy production is arbitrary and unnecessary. And much like the housing bubble and subsequent financial crisis, handouts at the federal and state level are creating a solar bubble that taxpayers are propping up, and it will be the taxpayers and investors who take the hit when the industry comes crashing down.”

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has posted the minutes to a March 19, 2019 public hearing in Mowrystown.

There was interesting discussion – both pro and con – at that March 19 meeting regarding the proposed solar energy farm in southwest Highland County in Clay and Whiteoak townships. Property owners provided a background on the project. Several area residents also spoke about the project and its potential impact on the local schools and the environment.

It's worth reviewing as the proposed solar energy farm moves forward. A PDF file is available at: http://dis.puc.state.oh.us/DocumentRecord.aspx?DocID=8c56f96a-2fef-4cc1-8997-37b8f9c058fc.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.

Related article

https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Highland-County-solar-facility-to-benefit-city-of-Cincinnati-PUCO-rejects-AEP-proposal-on-Highland-County-solar-projects/2/20/53915?s=1