“There was a knowledge from our past work that it wasn’t just the best place to build solar for social and economic reasons, it was also the best place to build solar because of the solar radiation,” said Evan Blumer, project director for the Appalachian Ohio Solar Jobs Network. “The solar radiation in Ohio is significantly better in the southern tier of the state and, within that band, it gets better as you go from South Point in Lawrence County west.”

As a result, while the solar developers and utilities have been looking at the possibilities for the region for some time, action on those possibilities has started to accelerate. In September, the Ohio Power Siting Board authorized Vinton Solar Energy LLC to construct a 125-megawatt solar farm on 1,950 acres in nearby McArthur that will involve several photovoltaic arrays connected to the electric infrastructure that will transmit the electricity generated directly to the power grid.

In the southwest corner of another of Ross County’s neighbors, Highland County, two additional solar farm projects aiming to generate a combined 400 megawatts of solar power are in the regulatory pipeline on behalf of AEP Ohio.

“AEP Ohio customers have expressed their support for renewable generation resources built in Ohio,” said Julie Sloat, AEP Ohio president and CEO. “AEP Ohio is taking a bold step to secure Ohio’s energy future by enabling the development of 400 megawatts of new solar generation, including the largest solar facility in the state.”

Meanwhile, earlier this year, representatives of Houston, Texas-based First Solar told Ross County commissioners that they were exploring a pair of solar farm projects for one of its customers. The larger of the Ross sites, if the projects move forward, would be located in the Yellowbud area and generate 147 megawatts while the other would be in Buckskin Township and generate around 100 megawatts.

That meeting took place in June, with hopes expressed that one or both of the Ross projects may be able to enter the regulatory process before the end of this year if the decision was made to move forward. Karl Pierce, director of project development for First Solar, told the Gazette earlier this month that development is continuing on both projects.

As the future of those projects is being determined, the Highland County effort, if it clears all regulatory hurdles, could have a construction jobs impact that could be felt in surrounding counties, including Ross.

That effort came about as part of a settlement between AEP and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio through which AEP agreed to meet the need for at least 900 megawatts of renewable energy through facilities to be constructed in Ohio. Of that amount, 500 megawatts would come in the form of wind power and the other 400 megawatts in solar.

The two solar projects in Highland County are expected to support more than 4,000 jobs in Appalachian Ohio during the construction phase, including those needed for construction and administrative functions, those tied to the supply chain, and those that will be supported in the retail and hospitality sectors where the projects are being developed. They also are expected to create about 150 permanent manufacturing, installation and servicing jobs and have an impact on tax revenues at the state and regional levels.

AEP noted that its customers should see cost savings if the projects are allowed to move forward. The company said conservative estimates show AEP customers would save about $218 million in energy costs over 20 years compared to current market forecasts.

AEP estimates the Highland County projects could be operational by the end of 2021, pending regulatory approvals.

01 LAN Solar Field

A solar field of 1,962 panels has been installed along Mill Park Drive in Lancaster. The field provides electricity for South Central Power customers who subscribe to the program.(Photo: photo provided by South Central Power)