Ohio is coal country and proud of it. To prove it, the Buckeye State gets more of its electricity from coal than almost any other US state and has high carbon emissions as a result. Actually, strike that. Ohio used to be coal country. But this deep red state is slowly but surely turning green as more and more renewable energy comes online within its borders.
AEP Plans More Wind Power
American Electric Power, one of Ohio’s largest utility companies, has submitted a plan to the state’s public utilities commission that would double the amount of renewable energy in the the state, according to the National Environmental Defense Council. The plan includes a significant amount of wind power. Until now, wind has played a rather small role in Ohio’s energy mix due to strict siting requirements written into law at the behest of fossil fuel companies.
But a combination of public demand, lower costs, and advocacy from environmental groups like the NRDC is changing attitudes toward renewables. “Ohio has never seen this much clean energy proposed at once. It’s clearly the start of a path toward renewable energy that Ohioans have been demanding for years,” says Daniel Sawmiller, policy director for energy at the NRDC’s Ohio headquarters. “If approved, this proposal will significantly expand the state’s underdeveloped clean energy economy and bring with it significant economic and health benefits. This proposal is a result of years of tireless advocacy from a broad collection of Ohioans that helped AEP move in a new direction. While it makes economic sense for AEP to invest in clean energy, strong customer demand is also helping drive renewable energy projects in Ohio and across the country.”
The proposal is light on details at present while AEP waits for feedback from the PUC, but it represents a break from the utility’s traditional position of wanting to extend the life of its coal-powered fleet of generating stations. Doing good for the community and the Earth is all well and good, but the bottom line is still the most important factor in deciding the best way to meet the demand for electricity in the future. As the cost of renewables continues to fall, the business case for solar and wind energy will only get stronger.
In addition to its wind proposal, AEP has also filed for approval of a 400 MW solar power plant in Hamilton County, Ohio, smack dab in the middle of coal country. The PUC currently has taken that idea under consideration. It’s a lot to digest for a state that has traditionally opposed any and all renewable energy projects.
Invenergy Plans To Combine Wind And Solar In One Location
Invenergy is about to begin construction outside of Lima, Ohio, of what it thinks will be the largest hybrid renewable energy project in the world. Featuring 175 MW of wind power and 150 MW of solar, the new facility will generate enough electricity to power 75,000 homes. Invenergy already has a hybrid installation up and running in northern Illinois, also operated by Invenergy, but that facility does not have the balance of wind and solar power the new installation will have. It has 210 megawatts of wind, 20 megawatts of solar, and 33 megawatts of energy storage.
Co-locating wind and solar is a fairly new trend but one that can lower the total cost of electricity by between 3 and 13%. Both parts of the hybrid system share the same maintenance and operating personnel. They also share the same sub-station that connects the project to the electrical grid.
Wind and solar tend to produce their maximum electrical output as different times of day — solar in the daylight hours and wind after dark. That means the hybrid facility can do a better job of meeting demand at all hours of the day, something that has been a point of attack against renewable energy by fossil fuel advocates.
Vahan Gevorgian, a chief engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, tells Inside Climate News, “It will create economic opportunities for wind in parts of the U.S. where wind [farms are] not present.” More utility companies are looking at combining wind and solar at the same location he says.
Hybrid facilities also make it easier to manage the gas-fired peaker plants that provide backup power for the grid because the amount of electricity provided by renewables is more consistent and therefore more predictable. Ramping peaker plants up and then shutting them down costs a lot of money and creates far more carbon emissions than operating them on a steady state basis.
Gabe Klooster, a project analyst for Invenergy, says his company was attracted to the site near Lima because it is right next to a transmission line that can transport power to the grid. The sweetener is that land acquisition costs in the area are comparatively low. Construction of the wind turbines is expected to begin next year. The solar panels will be added after the wind component is completed. At the present time, Ohio has only 182 MW of installed solar power, so the new facility, at 150 MW, will nearly double the amount of solar energy in Ohio.
If the trend toward renewables is increasing in Ohio — a state with a legislature controlled by fossil fuel interests — then a tipping point is nearing. No matter how committed to coal and natural gas an area may be, if fossil fuels can’t compete on price, there days are numbered.