While mostly overcast Ohio has companies that lead the nation in the manufacture of cells, it's not known for its leadership in solar energy projects. And with today's decision by the state's public utilities commission, that leadership remains over the horizon.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) voted to block progress on the “Turning Point” 49.98 Megawatt solar energy project. The project is the largest solar energy project East of the Mississippi River, and one of the largest construction ready solar projects in the world.
The PUCO, whose members are appointed by the governor, voted 3-1 in favor of First Energy’s objections to the project despite the commission's staff recommendation that this facility is needed to produce Solar Renewable Energy Credits needed to comply with the renewable energy production requirements of S.B. 221.
First Energy, an Ohio-based energy company whose mishap in 2003 produced the energy catastrophe that shut down power to 50 million people in the Northeast when tree branches touched distribution wires, have been kind to Gov. Kasich, who has finished his first two years in office and has geared up for reelection in 2014.
Ohio Democrats, who enjoyed a big win in November when Barack Obama won Ohio again over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, are gunning for Mr. Kasich, hoping to make him a one-term governor.
Included in their criticism of today's decision by the PUCO is their contention that First Energy employees have donated more than $100,000 to Governor Kasich and the Ohio Republican Party.
The Turning Point project, they said, was slated to create nearly 600 Ohio jobs spread throughout Eastern and Northwest Ohio.
In a media release to reporters, ODP communications chief Jerid Kurtz identified Isofoton, a company in Northwest Ohio, as the contractor to produce the solar panels for the project pledged that 60 percent of the jobs at its Napoleon plant would be reserved for returning veterans.
In response to the Kasich Administration’s decision, Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern, who returns as a sitting Member of the Ohio House of Representatives, released the following statement:
“It’s deeply disappointing that Governor 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. This Governor has come under suspicion of corruption and ethical lapses in the past, but rarely has his Administration been so brazen as to actually ignore a professional commission recommendation in order to reward a donor."
Redfern, a former county commissioner, said Gov. Kasich "has a duty to immediately call his political cronies at PUCO back to work and demand they stay there until they’ve done all they can to dispel this appearance of impropriety and support these hundreds of jobs spread throughout Northwest and Eastern Ohio."
PUCO staff wrote in its recommendation that while First Energy has devoted substantial time to challenging the need for Turning Point, its arguments miss the limited purposes of this case.
"Turning Point is not needed to produce just electricity. That is not its function. Its function is to produce Ohio solar RECs. Its
function is not to produce Ohio solar RECs for just AEP. The need for Ohio solar RECs is state-wide. The industry as a whole needs an increasing number of Ohio.
In one of the more humorous comments by PUCO staff, that goes to the fact that not everything a newspaper prints is true, this nugget is found: "The newspaper articles were properly excluded. Relying on newspaper reports has shortcomings. We all know Dewey did not defeat Truman and we know that there is no nuclear power plant under construction at Piketon despite newspaper coverage to the contrary. Even assuming that the reports correctly reflect thinking at the time of printing, decisions change, plans are altered or postponed. The examiner's ruling was a sensible way to keep the hearing focused on what is real or certain."
The PUCO's staff conclusion was this: "Fundamentally, it is clear that additional solar capacity is needed in Ohio to comply with the General Assembly's mandates. Someone must build. Construction of solar facilities in Ohio is needed by any definition of the word. AEP has announced a plan to do so, Turning Point. That the Turning Point project is needed in this sense is obvious. FirstEnergy and lEU [Industrial Energy Users] would however have this Commission ignore the only tangible, real proposal to deal with the shortfall in Ohio sRECs. Instead, FirstEnergy and lEU would have this Commission rely on the speculation that someone unknown will at some unknown place and time build enough solar capacity to meet the need. The record reveals no commitment from anyone else to construct anything else. While it may be fine for FirstEnergy and lEU to rely on hope, this Commission should rely on evidence and the evidence shows that Turning Point is needed. The Commission should so find."
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