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Cincinnati Mayor visits Athens, meets with local officials

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Cincinnati Mayor meets with local officials.

Editor’s Note: This story was also published in The Athens NEWS.

Democratic Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley visited Athens to talk about Cincinnati’s recent solar power project, unseating Ohio Republicans and the plight to expand broadband access in the local region with Athens government officials Tuesday afternoon.

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, Athens City Council President Chris Knisely and several others met with Cranley below the solar panels in the parking lot next to the Athens Community Center for the event, which was hosted by the Athens County Democratic Party.

Cranley discussed how the city of Cincinnati is on track to create the largest municipal solar farm in the country — a farm in Highland County will soon convert the city government’s energy source to solar power.

With 310,000 solar panels planned to be to be constructed, the solar farm is slated to deliver 100 megawatts of energy to the city. Additionally, the project allows for municipalities, private companies and the public to opt in to the city’s prices on solar panels, as well.

“We started talking about how we could invest in enough solar to have the equivalent of the energy we could consume, and how we could do it without losing money,” Cranley said about the project.

In recent years, he said, the price of solar energy infrastructure has decreased, while the ability to get more energy out of individual solar panels has increased.

“The innovation and the great capitalist spirit of this country has really produced phenomenal gains in the efficiency of solar panels,” he said.

The coronavirus pandemic put everything behind schedule, however; while the first 25 megawatts were supposed to be finished already, ground was just broken earlier this year. He said the project should be finished by the end of next year, at the latest.

Athens County has been previously lauded for its efforts toward utilizing solar power. 

The East State Street solar panels that were the stage for Tuesday’s event power about 25 percent of the Athens Community Center’s operations. According to a previous Athens NEWS report, however, city administration is planning a much larger solar project. 

In February 2020, city administration shared that a large-scale solar power project was in the works and would create the largest solar panel array in the city as well as power its biggest energy users, including the wastewater treatment plant and the Athens Community Center. 

Cranley said inspiration for the project came from President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord in 2017. Shortly after, Cincinnati announced a 2035 mandate for carbon neutrality in the city. 

“When Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord, that was a real shock to the gut,” he said.

Republicans holding office at the state level were also a topic of conversation, as Cranley hinted at his potential candidacy for governor of Ohio.

“I think Ohio needs a comeback,” he said. “The Republican party has run the state for 30 years … When you have 30 years to govern, you’re able to put your agenda in place.”

Cranley announced in February he was exploring a gubernatorial run in 2022, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. His potential candidacy is still in the cards as of Tuesday, but he added it was contingent on how the presidential election unfolds.

“You never know when you start a race if you’re going to win or lose,” he said. “But I have to feel like I have a reasonable chance of winning.”

Cranley said he plans to make a final decision about the 2022 race by the end of this year. He has held local offices since 2001 — as a city councilmember for 8 years and as mayor — and ran unsuccessfully for Congress twice in 2000 and 2006. Both races were against Republican Congressman Steve Chabot.

“Obviously, we [Democrats] keep losing statewide, except for Sherrod Brown and Barack Obama,” Cranley said. “We need a better message.”

Athens Democrats also discussed issues facing the local region with Cranley. Knisely said what she called “the fifth utility” remained a major struggle for many in the region.

“I think one of our key issues in southeast Ohio is broadband,” she said. “We’ve still got students who go to McDonald’s to get their homework done.”

Patterson added he felt someone tackling the issue of reliable broadband access would be “key” in who southeast Ohio would be looking for in their next governor.

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