Ohio’s energy future needs to include more solar energy, and not just for the capacity and energy that it provides. Diversifying our electricity generation supply with renewable energy projects, using long-term contracts with a low fixed cost, will help stabilize electric bills and create economic engines that can sustain communities and ensure a healthier, cleaner environment for Ohio.
A vision for Ohio’s energy future is at the core of the opening brief that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Ohio Environmental Council and Sierra club filed jointly yesterday afternoon at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) in a case that will decide the fate of the largest renewable energy project in Ohio’s history. The joint brief details the need for a set of large-scale solar projects that are slated to be developed in Appalachian Ohio, pending the PUCO’s approval.
Transition to clean energy
The proposed utility-scale solar projects would help to responsibly transition rural Ohio’s coal-dependent region to more sustainable economies. The effects of the decline in mining, manufacturing and coal industry jobs are being felt in southern Ohio. Highland County, where both projects will be located, has a poverty rate of 19.8%, with 28.4% of all children living in poverty. According to census data, 43.6% of the population has incomes under 200% of the federal poverty line. The Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy, a low-income consumer advocacy organization supporting the projects, compared this poverty statistic to other counties in the region: Adams County – 51.8%; Brown County – 38.1%; Clinton County – 36.2%; Fayette County – 40%; Pike County – 44.8%; and Ross County – 40.2%.
The proposed solar projects would help this rural Ohio region start to shift away from relying on an economy based on extraction and the burning of fossil fuels to a regenerative economy that invests in its communities and attracts more opportunity. The projects would provide both direct and indirect benefits to Appalachian Ohio, including local tax revenue, thousands of construction jobs, both short-term and ongoing operations and maintenance jobs, landowner lease payments, and more.
Jobs and economic benefits
The 100 MW Willowbrook Solar project in Highland County is estimated to create 1,120 direct and indirect jobs during construction, pouring up to $107 million into payroll, as well as 20 to 24 direct and indirect jobs during operation, with a payroll of $975,000 to $1.1 million. The 300 MW Highland Solar project is estimated to create another 2,750 direct and indirect jobs during its construction. Both projects have also committed to sourcing equipment within Ohio, and Hecate Energy, one of the two developers, has committed to at least 113 full-time permanent jobs not related to the construction or operation of the solar facility.
In addition to the jobs created through the construction and operation of these projects, they will help Ohio to attract businesses with sustainability goals that our state is currently unable to meet. As John Molinaro, president and CEO of the Appalachian Partnership, put it in his testimony in front of a packed house at the PUCO’s public hearing:
“Our Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth subsidiary, and I think perhaps others in the JobsOhio Network, regularly run into barriers in attracting e-commerce and foreign firms to Ohio because of the lack of renewable energy resources available and sourced in Ohio to those firms. Most of the e-commerce ventures require renewable energy. Many of the foreign direct-investment projects we see require renewable energy, and we lose those opportunities when we can’t provide that from Ohio generating sources.”
Ohioans support clean energy
AEP Ohio customers overwhelmingly support these renewable projects in southern Ohio. A customer survey submitted by AEP Ohio showed strong support for renewable energy produced in Ohio and for the company taking proactive steps to reduce its air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. The economic and health benefits of renewable energy make it increasingly attractive for both customers and utilities.
At a crowded, standing-room-only public hearing hosted by the Public Utilities Commission on Dec. 4, 2018, 54 people offered sworn testimony, and all 54 spoke in support of the project proposal. By our count, at least 3,378 people submitted public comments in the docket in these proceedings as of today, and all 3,378 comments that were submitted expressed support for these projects.
The incredible diversity of support in this vision for rural Ohio cannot go unnoticed. Despite the wide-ranging, and often conflicting, voices that support the Appalachian Ohio solar developments, they all recognize the clear need for the project. This is how it’s supposed to be done in Ohio – diverse stakeholders coming together for a common purpose that would lift Ohio. We have done that. Now, it is up to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to say yes.
Daniel Sawmiller is the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) director of energy policy in Ohio. This article has been reposted with permission from NRDC.