State weighs huge solar farm proposal today

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) launches an evidentiary hearing today on whether to approve huge new solar-generation farms for the Columbus and western Ohio-area electric utility American Electric Power (AEP).

The case is being watched by regulators, power industry observers, environmental advocates and 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.

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The utility wants to develop a total of 900 megawatts of renewable energy production in Ohio.

AEP contends the project would be a job-creator, supporting 4,000 jobs, including 113 permanent manufacturing jobs in the solar infrastructure supply chain.

But the proposal is facing headwinds. A PUCO staff member last month weighed in against the proposal.

“Staff … finds that the company has not demonstrated a need to construct any additional resources at this time,” PUCO staff utility specialist Timothy Benedict testified.

PUCO commission members are still free to reach their own conclusions.

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Jonathan Lesser, a witness for the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, concurred with PUCO staff.

“AEP’s regulatory proposal transfers financial and operating risk of power plants from AEP shareholders to AEP Ohio’s captive monopoly customer,” Lesser testified, also in December. “This is contrary to the General Assembly’s plan for Ohio that, with limited exceptions, generating plants (including renewable projects) should be developed in the marketplace, without involvement of monopoly utilities and charges to their captive customers.”

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The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, Ohio Coal Association, Kroger, Industrial Energy Users, IGS and Direct Energy have also recommended against the proposal.

Evidentiary testimony before the PUCO is expected to last two weeks.

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