Business fears bill will ‘kill solar’ if approved

Company says energy efforts save money

The massive Rudolph/​Libbe-Toledo Zoo solar project on Spencer Street would suffer if SB 310 is enacted, renewable-energy proponents say.
The massive Rudolph/​Libbe-Toledo Zoo solar project on Spencer Street would suffer if SB 310 is enacted, renewable-energy proponents say.

One of metro Toledo’s older businesses has benefited greatly from a 2008 state law that requires utilities to invest more in solar power, wind power, and other forms of renewable energy.

Rudolph/​Libbe Inc. went from virtually no involvement with solar projects to generating 10 percent of its revenue from them within five years after the law, known as Ohio’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, took effect in early 2009.

Now, says Jason Slattery, Rudolph/​Libbe director of solar, the company has a whole unit devoted to solar projects and aims eventually to get 30 percent of its revenue from them.

Mr. Slattery was one of five supporters of the 2008 energy law who made a special presentation Tuesday to The Blade about why a statewide renewable-energy mandate should be preserved.

They fear pending legislation in the Ohio General Assembly, Senate Bill 310, would reverse the progress.

“We think it’s going to kill solar in the state if it’s approved,” Mr. Slattery said. “It sends a negative message to an investor.”

Ohio’s renewable-energy law calls for utilities doing business in the state to get at least 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

Senate Bill 310 wouldn’t repeal it, but would call a time out.

Ohio’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard is similar to renewable energy laws enacted in about three dozen states. Supporters say it has opened new markets for renewable energy across the country and brought installation prices down.

Rudolph-Libbe’s costs for solar projects have come down from $9 per watt to $2 per watt since 2008. More affordable prices have resulted in more business, Mr. Slattery said.

The law has kept pace with objectives for more energy diversity, resulting in $1.2 billion in more economic development. Utilities have spent $450 million on renewables, but have achieved $1 billion in savings, said Dayna Baird Payne, of Government Edge Inc., a lobbying firm for the American Wind Energy Association.

“It’s a little hard to understand the headwinds we’re facing in the statehouse,” she said.

Ohio’s energy law had near-unanimous support when it emerged from legislation called Senate Bill 221 in 2008.

S.B. 310, sponsored by state Sen. Troy Balderson (R., Zanesville), would freeze the renewable and alternative energy mandate at the 2014 annual benchmark of 2.5 percent and the energy efficiency mandate at 4.2 percent. In addition, a 21-member Energy Mandates Study Committee would make recommendations by Dec. 15, 2015. A legislative hearing is scheduled for today.

The effort is being pushed by utility companies including FirstEnergy Corp., as well as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and other organizations.

It comes in the aftermath of a failed bill to repeal the standards and another that would have made major changes.

Doug Colafella, FirstEnergy spokesman, said utility is “very concerned the price tag to achieve Ohio’s mandated cuts in electric use will skyrocket in the years ahead.”

S.B. 310 “would effectively hold the line on future cost increases for our customers, aiding Ohio’s efforts to recover from a challenging economy and creating new jobs,” he said.

But Ohio utilities have filed reports with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio showing mandated energy-efficiency programs will yield more than $4.1 billion in savings over the program’s life, according to Ohio Advanced Energy Economy.

“The utility companies’ own numbers demonstrate that on average, every dollar that has been spent on energy-efficiency programs has resulted in two dollars in savings for Ohio consumers,” said Ted Ford, Ohio AEE president and chief executive officer.

Dan Litchfield, business developer of Iberdrola Renewables, said the 152-turbine Blue Creek Wind Farm his company developed in Van Wert, Paulding, and Putnam counties was a $600 million investment, the largest in Ohio in 2011.

Passage of S.B. 310 would push wind-farm developers and support businesses to other states, he said.

Supporters say freezing renewable-energy mandates would have a chilling effect on Ohio’s economy.

The state is America’s fourth largest for energy usage, usually in the top five for carbon emissions, and eager to rejuvenate its manufacturing legacy. It already is one of the leaders for producing parts for wind and solar projects.

Rudolph/​Libbe of Lake Township has satellite offices in Toledo, Cleveland, and Lima, Ohio, plus Plymouth, Mich. It is one of the region’s largest employers with 1,000 to 1,500 workers in construction trades.

The company is in the second phase of developing a large, 28,000-panel solar array on 22 acres of formerly vacant land north of the Toledo Zoo entrance off Anthony Wayne Trail. The zoo has agreed to buy the 2.6 megawatts expected to be generated by the project — roughly enough for 2,600 homes — to cover about 30 percent of its electricity. When finished, the array is expected to be one of the largest in the country providing electricity for a zoo.

Rudolph/​Libbe’s other solar projects include the zoo’s 1,400-panel walkway, called SolarWalk, as well as multiple projects with the Ohio Air National Guard and ones with the city of Bryan and First Solar LLC of Perrysburg.

Contact Tom Henry at: or 419-724-6079.