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Published: Friday, 9/11/2009

German company to build area's largest solar field in Wyandot County


UPPER SANDUSKY, Ohio - Northwest Ohio soon will be home to one of the largest solar energy fields in the eastern United States. Construction will begin as early as next month on an 83-acre solar field outside of Upper Sandusky.

It will use over 165,000 panels from First Solar Inc. to supply electricity to 6,000 homes. First Solar, born in Toledo but now based in Arizona, has its only North American solar-panel making plant in Perrysburg Township.

The $30 million project will provide electricity to American Electric Power, one of the largest utilities in the country and a provider of electricity to large chunks of northwest Ohio.

The firm has signed a 20-year agreement to purchase power from the 10.08-megawatt facility, to be called Wyandot Solar LLC. It is to be the first of what will be several such facilities in Ohio.

"Solar is really just starting to develop in a way that's more cost-effective, so it's important that we support projects like this," said Melissa McHenry, a spokesman for AEP.

The Columbus utility has 1.5 million customers in 61 counties in Ohio, including Hancock, Wyandot, Allen, Paulding, Putnam,

Defiance, Seneca, and Wood.

The solar plant, which will require only a handful of employees to operate, is being built and will be operated by a subsidiary of Juwi Solar Inc., a German firm that has constructed hundreds of solar fields in Europe and Africa.

Wyandot County Commissioner Mike Wheeler said construction of the solar facility will mean about 90 construction jobs in the region.

The plant, in Salem Township near an American Electric Power substation north of Upper Sandusky, is expected to be in operation in about 13 months.

The state last year enacted a law that altered the way electricity is regulated in Ohio.

Among its provisions, utilities are required to generate a portion of their electricity through solar energy.

The Upper Sandusky facility will be the first such large-scale venture to meet that requirement, but its 10-megawatt capacity represents a fraction of the 12,000 megawatts the company generates in Ohio.

There will be no changes in electricity rates for AEP customers when the solar plant is in operation.

FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron, whose subsidiary Toledo Edison serves customers across much of metropolitan Toledo, is focusing its renewable-energy efforts on converting a former coal plant along the Ohio river to burn biomass instead, spokesman Mark Durbin said.

FirstEnergy this month issued a request for proposals to purchase renewable-energy credits from its customers.

The credits, issued to homes or businesses that might have their own solar panels or windmills, would be purchased by FirstEnergy to allow it to meet the state's renewable-energy requirements, Mr. Durbin said.

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