In 2010, Governor Ted Strickland “announced agreements to create Turning Point Solar, a 49.9 MW solar array to be built on strip-mined land adjacent to The Wilds nature conservancy in Southeast Ohio. The agreement, a joint venture between American Electric Power, New Harvest Ventures and Agile Energy and two prominent Spanish solar power component manufacturers, Prius Energy S.L. and Isofoton, will establish two new manufacturing facilities in Ohio to help construct the 239,400 panel solar array”. [Office of the Governor, 10/4/2010]
That project, set to break ground this year, was brought to a halt last week when the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) voted 3-1 to reject AEP Ohio’s plan for the proposed Turning Point Solar project, saying that AEP [American Electric Power] “failed to show the Turning Point Solar project would benefit ratepayers or was needed to allow AEP Ohio to meet state requirements for using alternative energy sources.” (Marietta Times)
Turning Point Solar, located in Noble County, was to build the 49.9 megawatt photovoltaic array near Zanesville, Ohio bringing 300 construction jobs and 300 permanent manufacturing jobs to the city; a city with the highest unemployment rate in the State at 9.3%.
Isofoton, a Spanish company located in northwestern Ohio opened a solar-panel factory in Ohio in order to be close to Turning Point. After already having invested $30 million to get the project up and running, Isofoton will have to slow its operations until further notice. Currently the factory employs 33 Ohioans and was ready to add another 120 employees once Turning Point broke ground, with projections predicting the creation of approximately 300 permanent jobs in the future.
A California-based company, Agile Energy teamed up with New Harvest Ventures of Ohio to bring these green jobs to the State of Ohio, the “largest project of its type east of the Rockies.”
Glen Davis, the CEO of project developer Agile Energy, told GTM (Green Tech Media), "With respect to yesterday’s PUCO ruling, we are obviously disappointed, and feel the Commission has failed to account for the many economic, employment, developmental, environmental and energy security benefits the project will bring to Ohio. Nonetheless, we are determined to bring the Turning Point Solar project to fruition, and have already begun charting an alternate path forward."
“Agile Energy has received $37 million in funding from Good Energies Capital.”
“Michael Morris, the CEO of AEP, was a supporter of the project and AEP had expressed interest in investing once the project was developed. But now AEP has no way to pay for the project, having hoped for an on-bill charge to cover the cost of the $180 million to $250 million project. AEP spokeswoman Terri Flora said that the vote is a severe blow that undoes years of work, according to Gearino's report.” (Green Tech Media)
“AEP was hoping the PUCO would allow the utility to pay for electricity from the project by making all customers pay for a portion 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 decided to reject 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 Columbus Dispatch)
Democrats in Ohio have suggested that utility, a contributor to current Ohio Governor John Kasich's campaign, is an opponent of the project and influenced the decision of the PUC.
“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,” Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, Chris Redfern said.
Appointed by former Gov. Ted Strickland in 2010, Commissioner Lesser wrote in his dissent:
“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 Ohio] would however have this Commission ignore the only tangible, real proposal to deal with the shortfall in Ohio sRECs [Solar Renewable Energy Credits]. Instead, FirstEnergy and IEU 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.”
The Commission is tasked with coming up with nonpartisan rulings, even though the board is required by law to have no more than 3 members of the same political party on the board.. The chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Todd Snitchler has been an unusually outspoken critic of green energy on Twitter.
Darrel Rowland of the Columbus Dispatch “went through a year’s worth of Tweets from Kasich’s PUCO Chief Todd Snitchler and discovered the guy who heads the organization responsible for regulating Ohio’s public utilities appears to be a climate change denier.”
“The former lawmaker from Uniontown, Ohio, frequently shares material critical of solar, wind and "green" energy, even re-tweeting a story called "Elites of West have cranked up myth of Global Warming" from Pravda, a Communist Party-connected newspaper in Russia, calling it "interesting."
Among more than 1,000 tweets from the past year, Snitchler did not once share anything positive about renewable energy. Instead, he tweeted about how "clean-energy aid racks up losses" and "the Himalayas and nearby peaks have lost no ice in past 10 years, study shows"; shared the conservative website Drudge Report's "complete list of green energy failures" and conservative political commentator Laura Ingraham's "windbag & greeniac update"; and re-tweeted "electric cars pose environmental threat," "after Sandy no one lined up for wind turbines" and that the "??'green' religion is taking over from Christian religion."
“Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, (R-Marietta), said the long-term job impact of Turning Point in Noble County was "not huge." He said he's been concerned about the project for a while, questioning the reliability, efficiency and cost of solar power.
"I've always kind of cautioned that solar projects have come and gone," Thompson said.
“Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, (D-Steubenville), said in a news release Tuesday that the PUCO's decision is economically harmful. "This decision is a major setback for our skilled workforce and our local economy," he said. "Our top priority in Columbus should be making policy decisions that promote job growth, not stifle it."
The opinion issued by the majority on Jan. 9 reads, "Our decision is not intended to diminish the merits of the Turning Point project…[the finding] does not preclude AEP Ohio from pursuing the project through other appropriate means."
"We think this project's too good to fail," Dave Celona said, spokesman for Turning Point. "We're hopeful that ... we can identify over the next 60 to 90 days (ways) to make this project a reality."
- • In his 2010 State of the State address, Governor Strickland called on the Ohio General Assembly to eliminate the tangible personal property tax on solar and wind facilities that break ground in 2010, create jobs in Ohio and begin producing energy by 2012. In June of the same year, Strickland signed legislation to eliminate taxes on new energy facilities. [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1/27/2010; SB 232, 6/17/2010
- • Ohio ranked in the top five in Clean Energy jobs, Energy Efficiency jobs, and Environmentally Friendly Production jobs in a 2009 report done by the Pew Charitable Trusts. [The Pew Charitable Trusts]
- • Under Strickland’s leadership, Ohio created more green jobs, utilizing resources from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, than any other state in the country in 2009. [The Council of State Governments]
- • The Public Service Enterprise Group partnered with AEP Ohio to create one of the largest solar farms in the state. The Wyandot Solar farm is comprised of 159,000 panels made in Ohio and will generate enough electricity during daylight to power 9,000 homes. [Office of the Governor, The Advertiser Tribune, 8/20/2010]
Michael Peck, chairman of Isofoton North America said “We stand for a project that is beyond politics.”
PUCO's deputy public-affairs director Jason Gilham is acting as spokesperson for the commission, saying, “All five commission members undoubtedly have their own opinions, which is one reason the law mandates bipartisan representation.”
As reported in a related story from the Columbus Dispatch, “longtime observers of the utilities commission say past chairmen were never so vociferous or openly partisan about their opinions,” adding,
"I would say they were a little more circumspect," said William Spratley, who was state consumers' counsel from when the office was formed in 1977 to 1993. He now runs Green Energy Ohio, a nonprofit group he founded 13 years ago that educates the public on solar and wind issues.
"By law, Snitchler also is chairman of the Ohio Power Siting Board, which considers whether proposed major wind or solar facilities are in the public interest."
Republican Gov. John Kasich says he has nothing to do with rulings by PUCO and that if he were unhappy with the commission he would try to replace them. “I think he’s [Snitchler] done a very good job.”