A new report entitled Powering Ohio, prepared by Synapse Energy Economics in cooperation with the Great Lakes Energy Institute at Case Western Reserve University and PoweringOhio.org, calls for the state to install 2.2 GW of solar power by 2030. The report has garnered endorsements by several major corporations with extensive business operations in the state, including Walmart, JP Morgan Chase, Owens Corning, Whirlpool, Eaton, Gem Energy, Ceres, and Clean Fuels Ohio. The City of Cleveland is also a sponsor.
JP Morgan Chase executive Matthew Arnold says in the foreword to the report, “The U.S. energy industry is undergoing a transition toward clean energy.” His own company, which is adding 20 MW of solar power at its corporate offices in Columbus, Ohio, “has seen firsthand an increase in investments in sustainability. Individual states have a unique opportunity to encourage, and benefit from, this evolution.”
As of July of this year, Ohio had 176 MW of installed solar with another 550 MW in the works. The report claims getting to 2.2 GW of solar power would involve $3.6 billion in new investment activity, which would result in 800 direct jobs and more than 1,700 indirect jobs in Ohio each year, boosting the state’s economy by $1 billion annually.
The report was authored by Asa S. Hopkins, Thomas Vitolo, and Spencer Fields of Synapse Energy Economics. The project was underwritten by the Environmental Defense Fund. Synapse Energy Economics is a research and consulting firm specializing in energy,
economic, and environmental topics.
Asa Hopkins tells PV Magazine, “The 2.2 GW is composed of 1.2 GW of utility-scale PV and 1 GW of distributed generation. The potential DG PV value was derived based on growth of about 30 MW per year rising up to 80 MW per year by 2023, then continuing at that level. Recent DG growth in Ohio has been about 30 MW per year, and we expect increases in the pace of solar deployment are possible with falling component costs [which may be] contingent on changes in Ohio policies and further maturation of the market.
“We modeled the utility scale PV as more near-term, encouraged by the expiring federal investment tax credit. There are 550 MW of large projects that are either approved or proposed [that have been] filed with the Siting Board in addition to about 60 MW of operating projects, and we conservatively estimated that at least this many projects again could be constructed before 2030.”
Synapse began by using the Regional Energy Deployment System developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Using that as the basis of its analysis, it then expanded its projections “because recent demonstrated commercial interest in utility scale solar development in the state has far exceeded what ReEDS projects for development.” In other words, the factors driving the expansion of solar power are changing faster than existing models can keep up with.
The Synapse report also makes recommendations regarding wind power, electric transportation, energy efficiency, and grid modernization. “Ohio can become a center for design and manufacturing of the sensing, communicating, and controlling devices necessary to take advantage of the economic possibilities of a smart electric system. Developing and deploying a next generation electric grid in Ohio will also give customers new options to control their energy costs.” Synapse also supports development of offshore wind power on Lake Erie.
Such reports, of course, are designed to affect the thinking of policy makers. Ohio being a solidly red state, it tends to be mired in the Trumpian universe where coal is still seen as the basis of a thriving economy. The Synapse report spends little time addressing the need to help people who work in traditional industries transition to well paying jobs in emerging sectors.
Part of the allure of Trump-style policies is they tap into the anger many ordinary people feel about how globalization and the digital economy have stymied what used to be known as The American Dream — good jobs that allowed a comfortable life style with enough free time left over to enjoy life. Where Trump seeks to go backward to a bygone age, the vision painted by Synapse in its report offers a road map forward to a sustainable future that recaptures some of the features of that dream.
But its focus on business, industry, and government policy needs to be buttressed by robust solutions that allow the people who form the foundation of society to thrive. Current policies that shower riches on the already wealthy and place corporate interests ahead of the needs of people will not recapture the elusive Golden Age the Trump base cries out for, nor will it enable a new era of prosperity for all. Renewable energy is all well and good, but it must empower people as well.