SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

January 12, 2013

Energy de-reg X’s Solar proj

Dark day for AEP solar project

By Dan Gearino THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

A plan that was to give Ohio the largest solar array east of the Rockies is all but dead, potentially costing hundreds of jobs.

American Electric Power is saying that actions yesterday by regulators make it difficult to see how the 49.9-megawatt project southeast of Zanesville could ever come together.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio voted 3-1 to strip the Turning Point Solar plan from a larger report about AEP’s projected power needs. The majority wrote that AEP did not prove that the project is needed, and the panel left it up to AEP to provide further justification.

  • Although the commission says it remains open to exploring ways to make Turning Point happen, AEP spokeswoman Terri Flora says the vote is a severe blow that undoes years of work.

“‘Disappointed’ is the word I would use,” she said. “This is a missed opportunity.”

  • The Ohio Democratic Party and environmental groups seized on the decision as a job-killer and an abandonment of clean energy.   “This ruling is a slap in the face to clean energy, new jobs, and southeast Ohio,” Brian Kaiser, director of green jobs at the Ohio Environmental Council, said in a statement.

Although AEP was to be the key buyer of power from the project, the developers were several other companies.

AEP was hoping that the PUCO would allow the utility to pay for electricity from the project by making all customers cover some of the costs through a new charge in utility bills.

  • Previously, the agency has said it would allow charges like this if there was a clear need and if the free market was not going to provide a similar resource. The PUCO’s staff had said the project was needed, part of a larger agreement with AEP.

The PUCO’s governing board rejected its staff’s advice, an action that leaves AEP with no clear method of paying for the project. Steve Lesser, the only Democrat on the panel, cast the dissenting vote.

  • The larger issue is Ohio’s continuing movement toward energy deregulation, which means that projects like this no longer would be paid for by mandatory charges.   Several business groups urged the commission to reject AEP’s plan because it would go against the idea of free markets.

If the PUCO had approved the plan, it probably would have been challenged in court, and the opponents felt good about their chances of winning. Turning Point, estimated at one time to cost $250 million, was announced in October 2010 with much fanfare by AEP and then-Gov. Ted Strickland in the closing weeks of his re-election campaign. He said it would lead to 300 permanent manufacturing jobs and 300 construction jobs.

  • Isofoton, a Spanish solar-components company, chose Napoleon, Ohio, as the site for a factory partly to be near Turning Point.  Isofoton has opened the plant with a small number of employees and a plan to ramp employment up to 300. It is unclear how the PUCO action will affect that plan.

Critics suggested that Turning Point’s main purpose was to promote Strickland. “It had all the trappings of a political stunt to begin with,” said Sam Randazzo, an attorney for Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, which has argued against the project.

The Ohio Democratic Party is blaming Gov. John Kasich, Strickland’s opponent in that election, for what has happened. Chris Redfern, the party chairman, noted that one of the project’s leading opponents is Akron-based FirstEnergy, which is a key Kasich donor.

  • “It’s deeply disappointing that Gov. Kasich has given the appearance his administration is more interested in rewarding his campaign donors than supporting a project that would create more than 600 jobs, including many for veterans,” Redfern said.

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Kasich, said: “We respect the independence of the commission, and its decision today had nothing to do with us. The PUCO enforced the rules that the previous administration and environmentalists wrote, yet they now want to change the rules of the game because they didn’t like the outcome. Perhaps these people should simply recognize the PUCO’s independence and let them do their job.” dgearino@dispatch.com

@dispatchenergy

(Jan’s Comment:  

You know, I was going to be able to let this post stand – just as it is  –  right down to the last  sentence – the story kinda speaks for itself – but then,     Kasich etal,  have to go lay it on too thick to ignore the painfully remembered reality of the time prior to the Kasich regime.      We had a very effective (one of the best in the nation)  Consumer advocacy groups which did such an excellent job of protecting us against unreasonable rate increases, suing Utility companies when she had to and saving  Ohio residents substantial  amounts of money.  This was handled with a small fee right in  utility bills.   The new governor changed everything.  

Kasich, as I have frequently referenced was on a serious austerity binge.  I have belabored this over much and so will just simply state that he began with such sever cuts to their budget, that swiftly, they  had to cut back  and  cut staffing, then more cuts – no agency could have survived this.  It was clear – they wanted her gone!.  We have had repeated rate hikes since this department was chopped out of existence.  Everyone understands where Kasich’s interests lie – with big business and his own plans.  What a guy! 

As a minor aside,  several governors before Kasich had rebuffed gambling interests, sternly. Ohio, I am told has been a great place to raise children, being family oriented as it is with traditional values.  Still, Gov Kasich had on his front burner bigger plans.   Imagine, in just barely 2 years, we already have 3 modern, flashy gambling casinos.   I have read of some grumbling regarding neighborhood problems in surrounding areas.   Not everybody is happy.  Nor are they doing great business.  I wouldn’t know.   Jan)

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