By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Bowling Green officials don’t want to darken the bright future of massive solar field being built on city property, but Council members demanded answers Monday evening to some troubling questions on the project.
Concerns have been raised about the percentage of Ohio workers used on the site and the fact that they are not being paid prevailing wages.
Council President Mike Aspacher said he received an email from an AMP official in early September saying that prevailing wages would be paid to workers on the project. However, since then it has been reported that is not the case.
“There’s some conflicting information,” Aspacher said.
Council member Bruce Jeffers also expressed his frustration. “I assumed throughout this project that people would be paid prevailing wage.”
The issue is complicated by the fact that Bowling Green owns the property for the solar field at the corner of Carter and Newton roads, northeast of the city. But the solar field is an AMP project, which has contracted with NextEra, which has contracted with Blattner Energy.
Bowling Green Utilities Director Brian O’Connell said the city is hosting the solar field and buying energy from it, but not directly connected to the construction.
“We’re somewhat removed from the construction,” he said. Neither the agreement with AMP nor the tax abatement granted to NextEra require the prevailing wages be paid or that union labor be used.
If the project were the city’s, that would be different, O’Connell said. “We do have a prevailing wage requirement.” But in this case, the city has no control over the wages paid on the project.
But Aspacher was not satisfied. “The fact of the matter is it’s being built on Bowling Green property. So I think it’s a Bowling Green project.”
The other issue is the workforce on the project. NextEra was granted a tax abatement by the county commissioners on the project on the condition that 80 percent of the labor used on the site would be from Ohio.
O’Connell said NextEra actually bumped up that requirement to 82 percent Ohio labor in its contract with Blattner. And as of the last update, Blattner reported 85 percent Ohio labor on the project.
But accusations have been raised that some workers are just setting up temporary residence in Ohio for the length of the solar project. Aspacher asked who is responsible for reviewing those labor stats. O’Connell responded that NextEra is reviewing Blattner’s reports.
Those numbers may not be made public till next spring.
“It’s conceivable that the project will be complete” before the city can check the stats on workers from Ohio, Aspacher said.
Aspacher also expressed frustration over the fact that local contractors are not being used on the project. He mentioned the meeting earlier this year when council approved plans for the solar project and he expressed his hopes to AMP officials that local contractors be considered for the job.
“It appears that fell on deaf ears,” he said, mentioning two area contractors with considerable experience handling big solar projects. “They were not even approached.”
O’Connell said the drainage tile at the site is being done by a local contractor. He also noted that a job fair was held in Bowling Green. About 60 potential workers attended, and 14 were hired.
Jeffers said he was not pleased with lack of local workers hired.
“I’m distraught that we don’t have stronger state laws about hiring local workers for projects like this,” he said.
“We are conforming with every aspect of Ohio law, but maybe Ohio law needs to be changed,” Mayor Dick Edwards said.
“We all take this very, very seriously,” the mayor said. “Your concerns are valid. They are understandable.”
Aspacher asked O’Connell to check if any efforts were being made to investigate possible attempts to skirt around the Ohio labor requirements. He also demanded information on why AMP misrepresented the project as a prevailing wage job.
The information is not only important to him, Aspacher said, but “all the residents of Wood County have a stake in this,” with the large tax abatement granted to the project.
Edwards also said he hoped the questions raised get answered. “I hope it doesn’t detract from the overwhelming positive nature of this project.” Once completed, the project will be the largest solar field in Ohio.