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Published: Friday, 2/25/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Get in solar game

Ohio lawmakers were in almost unanimous agreement in 2008 when they voted to require energy providers in the state to generate more of their electricity from renewable resources. That included a mandate of .01 percent of power from solar sources in 2010, growing to .05 percent by 2025.

FirstEnergy, the parent company of Toledo Edison, says there isn't enough solar power available now. Toledo City Councilman Joe McNamara says the utility is ignoring a source that would create needed jobs in northwest Ohio. Both have a point.

FirstEnergy has asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for a waiver of the 3,206 solar renewable-energy credits it is supposed to obtain within Ohio this year. The company has bought only 112 such credits, despite what it calls an "aggressive strategy" and "persistent effort." The utility says the credits don't exist.

Councilman McNamara argues that FirstEnergy should follow the lead of American Electric Power, which signed a 20-year contract to buy power generated by a 10-megawatt solar field in Upper Sandusky.

Mr. McNamara says the solar array was built — mostly using panels produced in Perrysburg by FirstSolar — because of AEP's long-term commitment. One result, he says, is jobs for northwest Ohio.

Mr. McNamara claims a former FirstEnergy official told the Toledo Energy Policy Committee last year that solar power was "not viable in the Toledo area," and that the utility was not in the "solar energy game." The councilman notes that the Toledo area is a national leader in solar energy research and manufacturing that employs thousands of people.

Mr. McNamara says producers want to build more solar farms in northwest Ohio. All they need, he says, are partners willing to buy the electricity. He questions why a company that made $990 million in profits in 2009 and $760 million last year is not more heavily invested in such projects.

FirstEnergy rightly responds that it does support renewable energy: It has bought credits produced from a solar array in Napoleon and has invested in a solar project at the Cincinnati Zoo. More broadly, the company properly observes that it contributes millions of dollars to the Toledo area.

Still, critics assert that the company must do more to meet its solar-energy requirements. Doing so could create a brighter economic picture for northwest Ohio, they say.

The 3,206 solar credits FirstEnergy was supposed to obtain last year included a carryover from 2009, when the utility also failed to meet the legal mandate. It is hard to see how the company can meet its goals this year if 3,094 credits are rolled over from 2010.

It's to be hoped that FirstEnergy's has not lost faith in solar power in northwest Ohio, or is delaying its purchase of the credits while it assesses whether the regulation-averse new leadership in Columbus will change the rules.

Clean solar energy is a good investment for the future of the Toledo area and all of Ohio. FirstEnergy should redouble its efforts to get in the game — and to meet its legal obligations.



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