Environment Ohio
The Columbus Dispatch
Dan Gearino

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

American Electric Power is saying that actions today by regulators make it difficult to see how the 49.9 megawatt project near Zanesville can ever come together. 

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

While 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, calling it  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. 

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

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 larger issue is Ohio’s continuing movement toward energy deregulation, which means projects like this would no longer 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 would likely have been challenged in court, and the opponents felt good about their chances. 

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 a gubernatorial campaign. He said it would lead to 300 permanent manufacturing jobs and 300 construction jobs...

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