(Farm and Dairy) – Two bills recently introduced in the Ohio legislature could jeopardize the state’s fledgling utility-scale solar industry, business leaders say.
The Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition of Ohio, or USSEC Ohio, held a virtual press conference March 9 to discuss the impacts Senate Bill 52 and House Bill 118 would have if they became law.
“If this legislation was passed, it would almost certainly result in… investment leaving the state of Ohio for surrounding states,” said Mark Walter, director of legislative and regulatory affairs for Savion, a solar developer working in Ohio. “It would be challenging to convince companies to come to Ohio to develop solar projects.”
That could mean projects that are already going through the certification process with the Ohio Power Siting Board decide to pull out or that new projects skip over Ohio for states that are friendly to renewable energy development.
Senate Bill 52 and House Bill 118 would set up a referendum process on large wind farm and solar facility certificates before the projects go before the Ohio Power Siting Board. It would basically put the control over approving these types of projects in the hands of the communities before the state.
The Senate legislation was introduced by Republican Sens. Bill Reineke, of Tiffin, and Rob McColley, of Napoleon. The House version of the bill was sponsored by Republican Reps. Craig Reidel, of Defiance, and Dick Stein, of Norwalk.
Jason Rafeld, executive director of USSEC Ohio, said utility scale solar could bring more than $18 billion in economic impact and 54,000 jobs to the state. That’s according to an economic impact study the group commissioned with Ohio University.
The local control legislation would have a chilling effect on utility-scale solar development in Ohio, Rafeld said. Currently there are 34 projects either approved through the Ohio Power Siting Board or working their way through the certification process.
Utility scale solar in Ohio has not been around long, maybe five years at the most, Rafeld said. The coalition has 18 members, but is growing. The first projects were approved by the power siting board in September 2018. The process to develop, certify and build these projects takes years, Walter said.
Rafeld said there is no utility-scale solar in Ohio that is operational yet, although there are a few projects that are close to completion in the southwestern part of the state.
The solar industry said in the press conference that the Ohio Power Siting Board process is rigorous enough. It allows for public input through a local public hearing and requires a variety of studies, including environmental and cultural, wildlife, interconnection and economic.
“We want as much public interaction as we can get,” Walter said. “These projects are going to be in the community for years. If we’re not going to be good community stewards, we don’t deserve to be in those communities in the first place.”
Jessica Gliha, director of community and government relations with Geenex Solar, another Ohio solar developer, pointed to solar’s limited impact on the land long term. Most of the materials in a solar panel can be sold for scrap or recycled, she said, and when sites are decommissioned, the land is returned to its former state.
Solar developments are one of the only land uses designed to allow farmland to go back to being farmland, Gliha said.
“Solar is the perfect placeholder for the future,” she said.