Ohio residents push hard for more solar and wind energy
Packed hearing where most pushed for more solar and wind energy. | Mike Steere

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) held a public hearing on a project proposed by American Electric Power (AEP), utility provider for Columbus and much of central Ohio. AEP’s proposal includes the development in southeast Ohio of both wind and solar energy.

Approval of the project would be a major step forward in a state where coal remains the largest source of energy and where renewables make up only three percent of the energy portfolio. This project would include the largest solar facility in Ohio and more than double the state’s renewable energy generation. Initial costs of the project would result in a 28 cent increase on monthly bills for AEP customers. Three out of four of AEP customers surveyed by Navigant indicated willingness to pay more for energy generated from renewable sources.

People from all over Ohio attended the hearing, representing various groups, unions, businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations, as well as themselves as citizens, ratepayers, and voters. When the hearing began Tuesday, the room at the PUCO office in downtown Columbus was packed with over 100 people, with only standing room available. For nearly three hours, commissioners heard testimony after testimony from a total of 55 people hitting familiar topics such as job creation, pollution reduction, climate mitigation, and long term energy savings. Of those testimonies, only one did not explicitly urge approval of the proposal.

One speaker offered to have attendees stand in support of the proposal, a request which was dismissed by the hearing facilitator who stated that it was clear the room overwhelmingly agreed. And citing the great discrepancy between the sentiment of hearing attendees and state energy policies, several speakers claimed elected state officials have been and continue to fail to accurately represent them.

This hearing and proposal happen in the midst of other battles regarding renewable energy in Ohio. One centers around the property line setback for wind turbines for which Ohio has one of the nation’s most restrictive rules. SB238 aims to rectify that law and reignite the wind industry in Ohio, which has virtually halted for the last four years, but it has faced staunch opposition from the heavily conservative state House.

Another fight continues to rage over the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. HB114, in its most recent iteration by Senate committee members, aims to reduce Ohio’s goal for renewable energy, allow commercial customers to opt out of the energy efficiency standards altogether, and allow companies to roll over excess toward the next year’s requirements. The bill also strangely includes a fix to the wind setback similar to SB238, but environmental groups prefer SB238 as a standalone bill due to the other harmful provisions of HB114.

Following Tuesday’s public hearing, further evidentiary hearings are scheduled by the PUCO in January for AEP’s long term forecast report and arguments related to the proposed solar facilities where all involved parties will produce expert witnesses. No timeline has been set for the PUCO’s decision.