Huge proposed solar array at stake in PUCO case

A Washington Twp. 1.1 megawatt solar array built by Dayton Power & Light off Yankee Street in 2009. DP&L sold the facility last year. FILE
A Washington Twp. 1.1 megawatt solar array built by Dayton Power & Light off Yankee Street in 2009. DP&L sold the facility last year. FILE

Briefs are being filed with Ohio regulators on the question of whether to approve huge new solar-generation farms for the Columbus and western Ohio-area electric utility American Electric Power (AEP).

Briefs were filed Wednesday from the Kroger Co., a group of Ohio manufacturers and the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, among others.

At stake is an AEP proposal to build 400 megawatts of solar power, generated across two solar panel farms, in Highland County, south of Clinton County.

Julie Sloat, AEP Ohio president and chief operating officer, last year called the solar farms “a bold step.”

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“We have listened to our customers and are working each day to provide them with the energy products and services they want,” Sloat said in an AEP statement in September 2018. “The addition of these solar projects to Ohio’s generation mix will help ensure our customers are receiving their energy from a reliable, secure and diverse mix of resources.”

The central Ohio utility argues that the project will be a job-creator, supporting 4,000 jobs, including 113 permanent manufacturing jobs in the solar infrastructure supply chain.

Some have argued that Southern Ohio was harmed when Dayton Power & Light closed a pair of coal-fired power plants in Adams County in 2018.

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If approved, the Highland solar farm would be the biggest such facility in Ohio.

“Renewable energy is a good thing,” said the consumers’ counsel’s brief filed Wednesday. “But AEP’s proposal to re-monopolize power plants in Ohio is an illegal thing. Under Ohio’s deregulation law, an AEP proposal to develop and charge monopoly customers to subsidize solar or any type of power plant would be unlawful unless customers need the power to keep the lights on.”

PUCO staff has found that AEP “has not demonstrated a need to construct any additional resources at this time “

“AEP’s 1.5 million customers do not need the power,” the consumers’ counsel said.

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That office says AEP will sell the power generated by the farm into the regional PJM market.

A brief filed on behalf of grocer Kroger was also skeptical.

“While Kroger is a long-time supporter of the development and use of renewable energy, it cannot stand idly by when a monopoly utility attempts to thwart the competitive generation market established in Ohio by (Senate Bill) 3 in 1999,” Kroger’s brief said. “Specifically, Ohio law prohibits a monopoly utility from owning power plants (and charging customers for those power plants) unless that utility can show that it meets the limited exception” created under Ohio law.

Other briefs were filed this week by environmental groups, the Ohio Coal Association and others.

A spokesman for AEP said the company is reviewing the briefs.

“Customers have told the PUCO through the public hearing process, customer surveys and in comments filed in this case that they want to see renewable energy resources built in Ohio,” Scott Blake said in an email. “AEP Ohio has proposed a plan to support the construction of these resources in Appalachian Ohio where we can help develop a skilled workforce and bring economic development to the area.”