‘Unacceptable To Have In Our Community’: Locals Express Dismay At China-Linked Solar Plant In Their Town

(YouTube / Screenshot / Public — User: City of Pataskala Ohio)

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Nick Pope Contributor
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Residents of an Ohio community voiced their anger and concern on Monday about the construction of a solar plant being built in their town by a China-linked entity.

Illuminate USA, a joint venture between Invenergy, a Chicago-based transnational corporation that invests in green energy, and LONGi, China’s largest solar company, is set to build its module assembly plant in Pataskala, Ohio, a town of about 20,000 people located approximately 20 miles away from Columbus. The project, which is poised to be one of the largest of its kind in the U.S. and to receive federal subsidies from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), is drawing the ire of  locals, many of whom expressed their dismay at the lack of transparency around the deal and the fact that a China-linked company will be receiving subsidies in their community at a Monday city council meeting.

“China, arguably our most dangerous geopolitical enemy, is totally unacceptable to have in our community. We should not be putting down the welcome mat to these folks, which is why we must push this company out of our town,” Eileen Derolf, a resident who spoke at the city council meeting, said of the Illuminate USA plant. The “effort at secrecy has got to stop right now,” she continued, referencing a common concern voiced by others who spoke that the town’s residents have been mostly left in the dark about the situation’s particulars. (RELATED: Chinese Companies Scheme End-Around To Cash In On Green Energy Dollars Meant For American Firms)

LONGi and Invenergy established Illuminate USA earlier in 2023. Invenergy is the majority owner of Illuminate USA, according to Reuters, and the plant will be the result of $600 million in total investment, according to Illuminate USA’s website.

Illuminate USA could receive as much as $350 million each year in federal subsidies via the IRA, President Joe Biden’s signature climate bill, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company is also partnering with One Columbus and JobsOhio, local economic development organizations, to train workers for roles at the plant, according to Illuminate USA’s website.

“Illuminate USA combines Invenergy’s leading track record in solar development with LONGi’s industry-leading manufacturing expertise to produce high-quality Ohio-made solar panels for the U.S. market,” a spokesperson for the company told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Since announcing the company in March, Illuminate USA has continued to collaborate with our strong local partners to realize the significant economic benefits of our long-term, quality job-generating facility,” the spokesperson continued, adding that “as a proud member of the Pataskala community, Illuminate USA is looking forward to sharing more updates as we move closer to rolling off our first solar modules early next year.”

The company did not address specific questions about tax abatements, LONGi’s role in the project, the validity of residents’ concerns regarding potential Chinese influence in their town or whether it would welcome an on-record meeting with the community to discuss any concerns in its correspondence with the DCNF.

The plant is expected to provide at least 850 new jobs, and its operations are expected to begin by the end of this year, according to a March press release announcing the plans for the factory.

“I’m a father, I’m a grandfather, I have children that I want them to have a nice, safe place for them to live in the future, and we have to protect our communities, our country for the future for our children,” Tony Bright, another concerned resident who spoke out at the meeting, said of the project. “Sometimes, we have to see things early and nip them in the bud… we’re here tonight to kind of raise our voice in unison, in solidarity to say we want to elicit your help and support to fight against this.”

LONGi’s corporate structure includes an embedded Chinese Communist Party political committee designed to ensure that the company is operating in accordance with party ideals. A unit of the company has been found to be in violation of U.S. law by attempting to evade American tariffs on their goods, and it has also drawn significant scrutiny for its alleged exploitation of Uyghur Muslim labor, with a July 2023 report by Sheffield Hallam University assessing that the overall exposure of the LONGi’s supply chains to forced labor is “very high.”

Patskala joins a growing list of Midwestern locales that have pushed back against China-linked green energy firms setting up shop in their communities. Residents of Manteno, Illinois, and Big Rapids, Michigan, have similarly expressed their concerns regarding facilities being built by Gotion, a battery firm that plans to build large, subsidized facilities and has considerable ties to the Chinese Communist Party by way of its parent company, China-based Gotion High-Tech.

Invenergy and LONGi did not respond immediately to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

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