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Huge Solar Farm to Create Hundreds of Green Jobs in Ohio
Two Spanish companies are planning to build a huge solar farm near The Wilds, southeast of Zanesville, Ohio, that would make enough energy to power 25,000 homes. AEP has agreed to buy the power, and the project would result in 300 permanent green jobs.
Saying "the future has recognized Ohio," Gov. Ted Strickland yesterday announced a plan for one of the nation's largest solar arrays to produce electricity on reclaimed strip-mine land in southeastern Ohio.
Construction of the 239,400-panel solar array, called Turning Point Solar, would start in early 2012 adjacent to The Wilds nature conservancy in Muskingum and Noble counties and be completed by the end of 2014, officials said.
As part of the project, two companies based in Spain plan to open manufacturing operations in Ohio to make the solar panels and the solar trackers for the array, company officials said. Those operations might start next year.
Also, Columbus-based American Electric Power has agreed to invest $20 million and signed a memorandum of understanding with the project's developers yesterday to negotiate an agreement to buy the electricity produced by the array for 20 years.
Estimates call for the creation of 300 permanent manufacturing jobs, another 300 construction jobs to build the solar array and about 10 jobs to operate it.
"One of the largest solar farms in the nation is going to be built here in Ohio, with solar panels and solar trackers made in Ohio, built by Ohioans with the know-how taught in Ohio colleges," Strickland said.
The estimated cost of the project is $250 million, and it's not a done deal. Officials said it will require a federal loan guarantee or other financing, as well as tax incentives and other aid.
"All of these things are in motion," said David Wilhelm, a partner in New Harvest Ventures, part of a joint venture developing the array. Wilhelm also is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "None of them are certain as we speak here today, but we are confident on all scores."
Sam Randazzo, a Columbus lawyer who represents a coalition of major industrial energy users, said it's difficult to analyze the feasibility of the project without more details. But he's dubious.
"There have been a lot of these kinds of announcements, more of them around election time, and most of them never turn into anything," Randazzo said.
Michael A. Peck, representing Spain-based Isofoton, which would build the solar panels, said the company considered 22 states before settling on Ohio because of its ample intensity of solar radiation and other factors.
He said Isofoton plans to invest between $34 million and $37 million to build a plant or convert an existing one, but he declined to identify potential sites.
Prius Energy S.L. of Spain also is reviewing four unnamed vacant plants to convert for production of the trackers, with an initial investment of $3 million, said Prius partner Jos Carlos Sanchez Muliterno.
Both company officials said they plan to consolidate their North American operations in their Ohio facilities.
Supporters said the project was spurred by Ohio's requirement in 2008 that 25percent of the state's electricity be produced by advanced sources of energy, including 0.5 percent from solar, by 2025. Strickland has touted that law during his re-election bid this year as part of efforts to create "green-collar" jobs.
AEP's Morris said using the power generated by the new array and the solar field completed this summer in Wyandot County should satisfy the company's requirements under the law.
Energy produced by alternative sources is more expensive than power from coal, but adding solar and wind to the mix should have "a very small, if noticeable effect, on our customers' bills," he said.
The project would be the largest in Ohio, far exceeding the 12-megawatt solar field in Wyandot County. Like this new plan, the Wyandot project was made possible by a long-term contract with AEP.
"Outside of California, these are some big numbers," said Ken Zweibel, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute.
But is it feasible? "The easy part is building these systems," he said, referring to the manufacturing and installation of solar panels. "The issues have to do with siting and permitting, and those can cause delays locally, regionally and nationally."
Local officials hailed the news, and economic-development agencies in southeasternOhio said they hope a new solar plant, partnered with The Wilds, will bring "eco-tourism" to the region.
The project at least could cause other companies to consider building facilities in Appalachian Ohio, said Mike Jacoby, executive director of the Zanesville-Muskingum County Port Authority.
"This is going to get national and global attention." Jacoby said. "This could lead to more investment and more job creation, and we certainly need that."
See the original post on The Columbus Dispatch. By Marc Niquette. October 6, 2010.