This week, a strong statement in support of Ohio’s largest solar projects was made to the state’s Public Utilities Commission in Columbus. More than 160 people attended a public hearing on the need for two massive solar projects in Appalachian Ohio where 57 people testified in support of the projects and zero testified in opposition.
The diversity of the voices in support and their messages, ranging from environmental advocates to coal companies, made this hearing unique and promising for Ohio’s energy future. There was strong support from economic development professionals, local schools, religious leaders, and electricity customers from the deepest parts of Appalachia all the way to Cleveland. Labor unions that stand to benefit from the significant job creation shared an exceptionally powerful message throughout the day about the urgent need for the jobs this project would create in the region.
Dan Shirey, Business Manager at IBEW Local 575, had a very moving message, saying that “it sure would be nice for Appalachian Ohio to be known for being the home to the largest solar energy project this side of the Mississippi, instead of being known for having the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths.”
This followed a related message from Mark Johnson, tri-state Director for the building trades whose territory represents the heart of Appalachia. Mark made clear that these were good jobs and urgently needed, bringing some in the audience to shed a tear for the problems Appalachia faces. Mark said: “I see more of the demise of Appalachia than probably anyone in this room. Look those people in the eye and you’ll see they’re hurting. They’re hurting because of the demise of the coal industry. People have forgotten Appalachia, and this is one bright spot that I see.” This is a large part of what the project’s vision has been about since the beginning.
As I mentioned in my remarks at a press conference before the hearing, Ohio has retired more coal than any other state in the country and this has highlighted the need to diversify our energy supply and provide new opportunities to the areas being hit the hardest. It is critical for stakeholders to focus on new opportunities and for our leaders at the PUCO to recognize how important it is for the region that we get this project right.
I was inspired to be joined by a series of supporters that I don’t often share a stage with. The most noteworthy was the President of the Boich Companies, Matt Evans, a large coal producer based in Ohio. In Matt’s remarks, he called on the Public Utilities Commissioners to recognize the need for new jobs in Appalachia and explained how renewable energy can—and should—play a role. To be fair, Matt and I do not agree on every energy policy and he supports some things that give me pause and vice versa. But to stand next to the Boich companies to recognize the opportunities that new renewable energy projects can bring to Ohio tells me we’re making progress, and the forecast for jobs in Appalachian Ohio looks sunny and bright!