Expanding Access to Education in Rural Ohio

Amanda Stallings

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Amanda Stallings
Senior Policy Manager

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Growing up in rural Ohio, education played a huge role in opening my eyes to what I could do and where I could go. It also opened doors to follow my interests—and ultimately bring the knowledge and skills I developed back to help rural, agricultural communities like the one I still call home.

That’s why I’m so passionate about National Grid Renewables’ community engagement work around supporting education. And I’m particularly proud of a big win we had recently: significantly expanding a state education program in Ohio to bring practical and hands-on education around renewable energy generation to more young people in rural communities.

Recognizing a gap in access to education

The program is part of the Ohio PILOT Program, which stands for Payment in Lieu of Tax. It’s all spelled out in the Ohio Revised Code, Section 5727.75, for those who like the nitty-gritty details. The statute says that any renewable energy developer entering into a PILOT agreement with an Ohio county has a certain set of mandates that they must meet—and one of those is to provide an endowment or other support to an education system. The original statute had a narrow scope—requiring partnerships or endowments only with members of the state university system or certified apprenticeship programs under the Ohio Association of Trades.

Expanding Access to Education Funding

While working on our Yellowbud Project, we wanted to partner with the Pickaway Ross Career Technical Center (PRCTC) in Chillicothe, then found out the hard way that they didn’t qualify. We ended up working with Ohio University–Chillicothe for our education agreement to meet the deadline for PILOT approval. But the whole experience got me thinking about kids in rural areas who can’t access these big institutions.

Determined to make a change, I spoke with our Ohio development team and executive leadership at National Grid Renewables. The idea of expanding the program received unanimous support.

Lobbying for change

At the time, Ohio Senator Jerry Cirino was putting together an education bill, and I saw an opportunity to add an amendment to this bill that would expand access through the PILOT program.

I explained my position to Senator Cirino, noting that developers pick up the funding for these agreements. In other words, this is all upside with no cost to the state—which he liked hearing. So, I put the question to him: Would you be willing to put this PILOT amendment into your bill? Well, he agreed.

So, the amendment was included into the bill, the bill was passed, and now the PILOT has been expanded to include career technical centers, vocational schools—any training program, whether it be trade-associated or not.

Meeting communities where they’re at

The big mistake I see in a lot of corporate giving is companies funding programs, building things or delivering things that they think the community needs—not always meeting communities (and community members) where they’re at. This is why it was so important to me to expand the PILOT. Because secondary education is not necessarily for everybody. But expanding PILOT helps to open young adults’ eyes to all the great opportunities in the trade professions—to learn how they can make a contribution to society, without forcing them to fit into a certain mold of secondary education.

Renewables developers need to lead the way

Working with the Ohio PILOT program has been a great success. But I think this story shows why it’s important that renewables developers take the lead in advancing renewables education and training. Because we’re the ones building these projects that are going to be in these communities for 25 or 30 years. We’re the ones that need to lead the charge in supporting these communities for today and the future. And that’s why I’m proud to see National Grid Renewables taking on that responsibility.

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