Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ohio utility regulators nix big solar-energy project, say AEP customers shouldn't have to pay for it

The site is near The Wilds, reclaimed
strip mines housing endangered species.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio voted yesterday to remove what would be the largest solar array east of the Rocky Mountains, from an American Electric Power Co. plan to meet projected power needs, thus scotching construction plans, Dan Gearino of The Columbus Dispatch reports. (Dispatch map)

The commission said AEP didn't prove the necessity for the Turning Point Solar facility southeast of Zanesville, and left it up to the company to provide further justification for its construction. The agency said it remains open to finding ways to make the 49.9-megawatt project happen, but AEP spokeswoman Terri Flora told Gearino the vote undoes years of work by the company and is a severe blow. The Ohio Democratic Party and environmental groups called the decision a job-killer and an abandonment of clean energy. The only Democratic commissioner was the only dissenter.

AEP was to be the key buyer of power from the facility, but several other companies were involved. AEP had hoped to pay for the electricity from Turning Point by making all its customers cover some of the cost through a new utility-bill charge. The commission had previously agreed to allow such charges "if there was a clear need and if the free market was not going to provide a similar resource," Gearino reports. Because the commission rejected the new utility charge, AEP is left with no clear way to pay for the solar project.

Irony: PUCO's logo, a version of the
state seal, is dominated by the sun.
"The larger issue is Ohio’s continuing movement toward energy deregulation, which means that projects like this no longer would be paid for by mandatory charges," Gearino writes. Several business groups urged the commission to reject AEP's plan because they believed it would go against the idea of free markets. Gearino writes: "If the PUCO had approved the plan, it probably would have been challenged in court, and the opponents felt good about their chances of winning." (Read more)

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