NRDC says solar industry outlook across Appalachia looks “sunny and bright” –
By Patricia Beech –
Southwest Ohio could soon be home to the state’s largest solar power generating facility if a Chicago-based company’s plan to build a super-sized solar farm in Highland County comes to fruition.
If approved by the Ohio Siting Board, Hecate Energy’s proposed 300 Megawatt solar power facility will be located on approximately 2,500 acres about three miles northwest of Mowrystown.
“The generation of solar electric power may be coming to southern Ohio in a big way, and in a big hurry,” says 81-year old Barbara Lund, an environmental activist and Adams County resident.
Lund was among approximately 80 people who attended a public information meeting on Monday, Sept. 17 at Whiteoak High School in Mowrystown to learn more about the project – which is the largest proposed solar installation to date in Ohio.
Hecate Energy personnel and Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) employees were on hand to answer questions and concerns from local leaders and residents.
If approved, the Project could provide low cost competitive renewable power that will help establish the foundation for a future sustainable energy economy, according to a Hecate Energy.
The project will also deliver renewable power to the PJM Interconnection System – a regional transmission organization (RTO) that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Hecate Energy has yet to file an application letter with OPSB, however, the company did file a pre-application letter prior to holding a public information meeting.
While it remains unclear which utility company will transmit the power produced at the facility, Hecate is expected to enter into a power purchase agreement with a transmission provider after submitting their application letter to OPSB.
The company is required to hold a public formal hearing regarding the project in four to five months.
Hecate Energy is expected to complete its application with a month, and if approved, construction could begin in early 2020, with in service operation by mid 2021.
Holly Johnson of the Adams County Economic Development Office says solar energy could well be the wave of the future in Adams County as well as in surrounding areas.
“When it comes to solar energy there advantages and disadvantages,” Johnson says. “We’ve heard it all, it’s too expensive or it doesn’t work. Yet more solar energy systems are being installed on homes and businesses than ever before.”
The plunging cost of solar panels is part of the cost-savings equation.
A 2017 report from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that the cost of photo voltaic systems shrank by a factor of five from 2010 to 2017.
Even the tariffs on Chinese solar panels enacted by the Trump administration earlier this year are not expected to slow the growth of large-scale solar, which in the U.S. is already cheaper and much cleaner than coal.
“The main disadvantages of solar energy are that it cannot be generated at night, it is not reliable in areas with high cloud cover, and most solar cells currently only convert 20% of the energy from the sun’s rays to electricity,” says Johnson. “The advantages are the generation is free. It’s a clean form of energy because electricity generated by the sun produces no harmful emissions. It reduces our carbon footprint. And lastly, it makes us less dependent on others.”
Johnson and other area leaders hope the burgeoning industry will promote investment in rural southwestern Ohio, a region with a long history of extractive industries that use up resources and leave little behind when they depart.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Appalachia has been America’s resource supercenter for generations.
“When these industries leave, there’s not much left,” Evan Blumer, project director of the Appalachian Ohio Solar Jobs Network told NRDC reporter, Austyn Gaffney. “Whether it be coal more recently, or silica for glass before that, or clay for pottery, or, in the Civil War era, hardwood trees to make charcoal to fire iron furnaces,”
The result, according to Gaffney, “is high levels of unemployment, persistent unemployment and persistent poverty”.
Gaffney points out that a solar farm doesn’t require many workers, just a handful of people to do maintenance, but says large solar farms can attract a lot of other businesses to an area.
“Companies that produce the myriad parts needed to develop solar projects could support 700-800 permanent, well-paying jobs,” he says. “Furthermore, the plan is for those companies, as well as those in the farm’s construction, to make an extra effort to employ displaced utility workers and veterans.”
Gaffney points that “the economic impact of solar power in Ohio is already outstripping that of the state’s coal industry…and currently employs twice as many workers as coal”.
Thus far, the OPSB has approved only about 175 megawatts of power for projects of 50 megawatts or larger. A 125 megawatt project has been approved for Brown County and applications are under review for a 125 megawatt project in Vinton County and a 150 megawatt project in Harden and Highland Counties.
According to Lund, American Electric Power (AEP) has committed to 400 Megawatts of solar power by 2021, but a site has yet to be selected.
“For perspective, one megawatt can provide electric energy to some 165 houses,” she said. “400 megawatts from AEP could potentially power half of Cincinnati.”
While ever-changing economic factors remain attached to power generation and transmission, Johnson points out that solar power remains a stable and reliable source of power.
“Tax credits and local incentives vary and are subject to change,” she says, “But one thing for sure is the sun rises every day.”