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article imageOhio's largest solar farm would revitalize Appalachia region

By Karen Graham     Oct 1, 2018 in Business
American Electric Power (AEP) has applied to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to facilitate the development of the largest solar energy farm in the state’s history. through a low, fix-cost contract lasting 20 years.
The application, filed on September 27, if approved, would begin to meet the overwhelming demand expressed by Ohio's electricity customers for more renewable energy. It would also save consumers $218 million over 20 years because solar power from the project would be less expensive than conventional energy sources.
AEP plans to work with two developers to build 400 megawatts of solar in Highland County, Ohio. The project would create more than 4,000 new jobs, including 113 permanent manufacturing jobs in the solar supply chain, with the project developer promising to give preference to military veterans for all construction-related jobs.
According to AEP's filing, they project a $250 million increase in new workers earnings, $700 million in new economic output, and growing Ohio’s GDP by more than $400 million.
This wetlands area is part of a restoration project in Ohio.  The new wetlands are similar to those ...
This wetlands area is part of a restoration project in Ohio. The new wetlands are similar to those that naturally occur in southwest Ohio
Wetland Mitigation Phase II Natural Resource Restoration Design Plan
"This is something that Appalachia needs," said Dan Sawmiller, Ohio energy policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The jobs of this renewable energy economy are going to go somewhere and I think it's important that they go where they're needed."
“This innovative project is the first of its kind in Ohio. It will bring low-cost renewable energy and create significant economic benefits and jobs for Appalachian Ohio, an area that has struggled with coal industry’s decline and as Ohio’s coal plants continue to prove unable to compete with cheaper and cleaner energy."
The Appalachia region is considered part of "central Appalachia", a political, cultural, and bioregional classification that includes southeastern Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, and most of West Virginia.
Enel Green Energy s  Stillwater  solar power plant in the United States.
Enel Green Energy's "Stillwater" solar power plant in the United States.
Enel Green Energy
Breaking the established regulatory mold
In Ohio, utilities don't own power plants and generators have to compete with each other in providing the cheapest power to the grid. And for years, state officials have listened to compelling arguments against renewable energy, usually from reports that were dubious in nature, to begin with.
AEP's proposal is seeking to make an exception to this rule by having solar developers operate the solar farms on behalf of AEP Ohio. Opponents will likely argue that this violates Ohio's open market for electricity generation.
However, the savings and jobs promised with the AEP project have forced a turnaround and if the project is approved by Ohio regulators, it could serve as a template for other new projects in Ohio and in other states.
Another good thing the project has going forward is the location of the solar farm. Appalachian Ohio, which covers the southern and eastern parts of the state, is an economically depressed region. The solar farm will be built in Highland County, Ohio, a county with the highest unemployment rate in the state.
Part of the 354 MW SEGS solar complex in northern San Bernardino County  California.
Part of the 354 MW SEGS solar complex in northern San Bernardino County, California.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
"It's a really hopeful move," said John Quigley, director of the Center for Environment, Energy, and Economy at Harrisburg University, who has written about so-called "just transition" for poor communities affected by the shift from fossil fuels to the new green economy.
"It's an eye-opener for policymakers that there's a huge economic development opportunity for solar, especially in communities negatively affected by the energy transition," he said.
Ohio's Public Utilities Commission will have to look at all sides regarding this project, and it will probably takes several months before a decision is reached.
More about Kaepernick, Ohio, Solar farm, Appalachia region, decline of coal
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