Appalachian Ohio solar projects update


As Ohio legislators continue to debate HB 6, a bill that would extend a lifeline to FirstEnergy’s aging nuclear plants and remove the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, clean energy advocates are pointing to a pending massive solar development that could achieve the stated clean air goals of HB 6 while bringing significant economic benefits to the state.

The conversation around Ohio’s energy future sparked by HB 6 has drawn renewed attention to a pending utility-scale solar project currently being considered in Appalachian Ohio that, if developed, would be the state’s largest solar farm. Residents of Highland County were excited about the prospects of a new economic engine for the region that would potentially create 4,000 construction job years and 150 new permanent solar manufacturing jobs.

Given the scale of this solar project in Appalachian Ohio, customers would save more than $218 million, and the region would benefit from sorely needed economic development and millions of dollars in property tax revenue. The solar development also drew broad support from the environmental community, consumer advocates, American Electric Power (AEP), businesses, elected officials, and even the coal industry.

Opponents testified that HB 6 would effectively repeal Ohio’s current Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS), which requires EDUs and certified retail electricity suppliers (CRES), to buy designated portions of the electricity they provide from renewable energy resources. A consistent message to legislators was that the current, market-driven AEPS was a much more cost-effective approach to providing carbon-free energy generation than the current HB 6 proposal. According to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), compliance with the AEPS has cost residential customers an average of 52 cents per month. In contrast, the OCAP envisioned by HB 6 would require a monthly charge of $2.50 for residential customers to support the production of “carbon-free energy.”

Dr. Evan Blumer, project director of the Appalachian Ohio Solar Jobs Network, said the hearings provide an important reminder of the ongoing support for the Appalachian solar projects.

“The energy bill being debated in the Ohio House committee has brought renewed focus to the solar projects that would bring significant carbon-free energy to Appalachian Ohio, help to diversify the state’s energy mix and help to improve Ohio’s economy,” Blumer said. “It’s encouraging that these projects continue to remain at the forefront of clean energy conversations.”

Dan Sawmiller, Ohio energy policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, reminded the committee members about the decision pending by the PUCO on two large-scale solar projects to be developed in Highland County.

“Seeing these projects move forward would save electricity customers more than $218 million and result in significant economic development in Appalachian region of the state. These projects have been in development for several years, and now it is time for the State of Ohio to demonstrate that they truly support diverse, cost-effective, reduced-carbon, energy generation. Thousands of supportive comments for these projects have been filed with the PUCO by Ohio’s electricity customers, and public hearings have been packed by hundreds of people with nearly 60 people testifying, all in support.”

Tom Froehle, vice president of external affairs for AEP, testified as an interested party on behalf of AEP Ohio, stating concern about eliminating the alternative energy portfolio standard and rapid elimination of energy efficiency programs preferred by customers.

“AEP plans to expand its generation portfolio and add renewable sources through regulated business and other agreements. Furthermore, all sectors of AEP Ohio customers are increasingly seeking renewable energy sources for their electricity supply. Some large commercial customers have also expressed a desire for renewable power from AEP Ohio. Having these resources readily available helps make Ohio a more attractive place for these companies to locate and expand their operations,” he said.

However, as Froehle noted, the current regulatory structure does not support the development of renewables by Ohio’s Electric Utilities.

“There is too much uncertainty in how we define what is ‘needed,’ a prerequisite for PUCO approval of several large clean energy projects. “If we have uncertainty, it becomes harder to attract and commit capital. Clarifying that Ohio needs carbon-free energy would go a long way towards ensuring that these, and other renewable energy project are completed,” Froehle said.

David Wilhelm, chief strategy officer for Hecate Energy LLC, addressed the subcommittee as an interested party, and applauded the legislators for their desire to “elevate the goal of a cleaner electricity mix to a pre-eminent place in state law and policy. This bill is intended to encourage ‘clean energy resources’ that emit zero carbon dioxide. That’s a good thing, and we ought to figure out how to take advantage of this unique moment in our state’s history to promote a true all-of-the above vision of what Ohio’s future energy map might look like.

“The [current] PUCO process ignores the relevance of the very thing that lies at the heart of this legislation — whether or not the project in question yields zero carbon emissions, or results in a cleaner energy mix,” stated Wilhelm, “and the process further ignores major social attributes (close to 4,000 construction-job years, 150 long-term manufacturing and operations jobs, and $3.6M per year in new property tax revenues — for 20 years) This is a godsend for a cash-strapped county like Highland.”

Mike Volpe, vice president of Open Road Renewables, testified in opposition to HB 6 and focused his comments on the plan to eliminate the current AEPS.

“House Bill 6 removes state support from job-creating renewable resources like new wind and solar facilities,” he said. “We are not alone in believing that Ohio — under the current AEPS — is a good place for new investment: there are currently more than 4,500 MW of wind and 10,000 MW of solar projects under development in the Buckeye State. But, projects like our’s are at risk of failure under a repeal of the AEPS as HB 6 has proposed.”

Let us know if we can put you in touch with supporters from the Appalachian Ohio Solar Jobs Network regarding these latest updates.

Submitted by Julie Theado, Krile Communications, 614-774-6358, [email protected].

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