"This Is About Ohio, Ohio, Ohio"

The Ohio Power Siting Board cleared the path for large scale solar additions today in two unanimous decisions.
Credit: Slimdandy via Flickr

There seems to be a new clean energy policy environment developing for Ohio, and it's happening in Ohio's rural communities. Farmers and other landowners around our state are diversifying their income, protecting their farms and planning for early retirement as they sign long-term leases in support of project developments that are starting to represent Ohio's economic future.

Ohio Solar Gets a Green Light from the OPSB

Today, the Ohio Power Siting Board approved plans that have been on hold for six months for three more significant solar projects, clearing their path to continue moving forward.

These favorable actions come after a decision by the Ohio Power Siting Board to defer taking action on the various applications in October of last year. Chairman Sam Randazzo—who also chairs the PUCO—offered comments on the Board's reasoning to defer action of the Nestlewood Solar Project in Brown and Clermont Counties, but the fate of these projects became uncertain.

This new uncertainty created a lot of concern among industry participants, and it raised questions about the long-term direction of utility scale solar at the OPSB, and for good reason. There was a lot on the line with the three projects, representing over $180 million to the communities, schools, landowners, and farmers over the life of the project. Not to mention hundreds of jobs and the corresponding public health and environmental attributes.

How We Got Here

Last year, Ohio's House Speaker Larry Householder led the effort to pass HB6—which had

the support of the IBEW and other labor unions—and was controversial, to say the least. I wrote about the concern I had for Ohio's clean energy future when that bill was being debated. But at the end of last year, I toured an IBEW training facility where I learned about their impressive program that is preparing its members for well-paying electrical work in the utility scale solar industry. And last month, I stood next to Speaker Householder at an event where we both spoke in support of the Hillcrest Solar project that was breaking ground in Brown County. Householder wasn't the only Ohio lawmaker in attendance. Reps. Wilkin and Vitale, Senator Wilson and other local leaders were all in attendance celebrating the new solar project.

In his remarks, Speaker Householder said in part, “When you look at this project, the solar panels are made in Toledo, Ohio. Good Ohioans are making those solar panels. The project having to be 80 percent Ohioans that are out here building this project, again, Ohioans. The fact that the land sits here; Ohio. It’s going to help Ohio homes with the generation. All the way through this, this is about Ohio, Ohio, Ohio. These are the type of things that we have to continue to pursue for our state to be as successful as it can be. We’re in a transitioning time here in our nation and certainly in the state of Ohio. And we’re moving into a new era. I think Ohio can be THE leader in this. I really truly believe that. This is something really big for the state of Ohio. It’s a new day in Ohio. We have to think differently than we’ve thought in the past. This is just the beginning.”

Speaker Householder was right. In fact, Wood Mackenzie ranks Ohio as the top state in the Midwest for solar development over the next five years. The 600,000 solar panels currently being installed at the Brown County facility are manufactured in Perrysburg, Ohio by First Solar. Last October, First Solar announced the start of production at its new photovoltaic module manufacturing facility in Lake Township, Ohio—resulting in 500 new Ohio manufacturing jobs. Between their facilities in Perrysburg and Lake Township, the annual production capacity in the United States represents over $1 billion in cumulative investment in Ohio and makes it the largest solar manufacturer in America and the Western Hemisphere.

It’s a Big Opportunity for Ohio

The Hillcrest Solar project in Brown County will provide $1.8 million in annual local revenue to the local communities, with a life-time revenue of more than $72 million. In a post-COVID-19 world with severe budget shortfalls, these guaranteed revenues will be vital. And because the county approved the PILOT, at least 80 percent of the workers building the projects must be living in Ohio.

And while there is a longer history of siting other types of utility generation, Ohio is really just beginning to scratch the surface of utility scale solar development. Since the passage of the clean energy standards in 2008, Ohio has installed 200 MW of solar, all of which have been smaller projects relative to utility-scale solar developments. But within the first quarter of 2020, more than 500MWs of large-scale solar projects have moved toward breaking ground in Ohio.

According to the Ohio Utility Scale Solar Coalition, 12 late-stage solar projects in Ohio will generate over $720 million in tax revenue over the life of the projects for the local governments that host them. In total, Ohio has 13,000 MWs of solar already in the PJM queue and thousands more MWs being developed.

The continued growth in this industry means increased local revenues, retained manufacturing jobs, new construction and operations jobs, significant reductions in emissions, and local power for our communities and businesses. And it's happening in Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.

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