AEP solar farm

More than 50 people testified at the hearing at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, and all of them glowed about the AEP solar project from an economic and environmental prospective.

After fighting utilities’ continuous requests to bail out failing and outdated coal plants, Ohioans finally had the opportunity to speak out in support of an electric company. On Dec. 4, 56 people testified at a public hearing at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) in favor of American Electric Power’s (AEP) request to build more renewable energy facilities.

The purpose of the hearing was to help the PUCO determine whether or not Ohio has a need for an additional 900 megawatts of renewable energy. Despite being held at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, the hearing attracted 170 people. Ohioans from Cleveland to Appalachia made it clear that the public agrees that Ohio needs to take advantage of its renewable resources. Attorney Examiner Sarah Parrot recognized this. When one man testifying asked if it would be appropriate for supporters of the proposal to stand, she responded, “I think it’s clear that the crowd is in favor of this project.” Not a single member of the public testified against the proposal.

Many people cited concerns about the destructive impact of fossil fuels and the recent climate assessments from federal and international agencies as part of their reason for speaking out.

The most common theme amongst supporters was the job growth that two solar farms—one of which would be the largest solar energy project in Ohio at 300 megawatts—will bring to Appalachia. Elected officials and representatives from community groups, businesses, and schools in Appalachia talked about the benefits the region would gain from the creation of solar farms in the area. The two proposed projects would bring approximately 3,900 jobs to counties that did not benefit from oil and gas employment as expected, according to the economic impact analysis provided by AEP. The analysis also projects that the solar farms would add more than $388 million to Ohio’s GDP.

Initially, customers are expected to pay an additional $0.28 on their monthly bill, based on an average usage of 1,000 kilowatt hours. However, the projects will save customers $200 million over the course of their 20 years of operation.

The Dec. 4 hearing was the first step towards approving AEP’s two proposed solar farms in Highland County, located southwest of Columbus in Appalachian Ohio. This proposal is the result of a deal AEP made in a 2016 settlement, in which it promised to decommission 1,500 megawatts of coal-fired capacity and construct 900 megawatts of clean energy resources—500 megawatts of wind and 400 megawatts of solar. Daniel Sawmiller, Ohio energy policy director at the NRDC, stated that 400 megawatts was identified as an amount likely to attract manufacturing and supply chains to the region.

A third-party report from Navigant Consulting shows that most of AEP’s customers want AEP to invest more in renewable energy. The report demonstrated that a majority of both Percentage-of-Income-Payment-Plan (PIPP) residential, non-PIPP residential, and commercial and industrial customers wanted more renewable energy, even if it meant a slight increase in cost. These customers anticipate benefits for the environment as well as the economy, with the most common expectations a better world for future generations, improved air quality, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, energy independence, and local job creation. As a way to guarantee local job creation, over half of the customers surveyed in the report expressed a desire for renewable energy to be produced in Ohio.

It’s important that customers continue to reach out to the PUCO and share why they want more renewable energy facilities in Ohio. Submit a public comment here. Be sure to include the docket number 18-0501-EL-FOR.