The Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition (USSEC) is a trade organization representing utility scale solar developers, manufacturers, and industry leaders in the state of Ohio before the General Assembly and regulatory agencies. Formed in 2019, USSEC has been working to provide industry perspectives and data to help inform a constructive dialogue with the Ohio Power Siting Board and other decision-makers around the state.
USSEC has presented informal comments to the Ohio Power Siting Board and has participated in public stakeholder discussions regarding the agency’s five-year rule review process that governs solar project applications. As a member-based trade organization, USSEC continues to seek ways to best address all reasonable permitting concerns, including increased transparency, information sharing, and community engagement.
The utility scale solar market in Ohio, which once was a dream, is now a reality. The Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition of Ohio, USSEC Ohio, was created to educate Ohioans, support pro-solar policy and ensure that Ohio communities benefit from the billions of dollars of investment in the state. Advocating for policy reforms that support solar development is the core mission of the USSEC Ohio. As the voice of solar businesses, our recommendations and lobbying influences the policy reforms under review. As Ohio moves forward, USSEC Ohio is organized, focused, and determined to continue its efforts to protect Ohio as a viable solar market.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
If the past can be a predictor of the future, Ohio should be a global energy titan. Since the 1800s, Ohioans have been at the forefront of energy use across the globe. By 1948, coal-fired power plants in Ohio made our state the third largest producer of electricity in America. In 2007, bragging rights for the world’s fastest electric fuel cell vehicle belonged to two students at Ohio State University. And, in 2020, Ohio is home to the largest solar panel manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere.
But the strength of our past could quickly become an albatross if our state does not embrace the future of energy. Over the last 10 years, we have witnessed the shuttering of coal-fired power plants all around the United States. Ohio has seen more closures than any other state and is feeling first-hand the impact that this transition is having on energy-intensive, middle-class economies
When coal plants shutter, however, they leave behind a valuable asset that can be leveraged into future growth: the high-voltage transmission system that was built to deliver electricity from those plants to consumers. This infrastructure, which runs above our vast flat land, provides Ohio with the opportunity to become a clean-energy superpower by embracing utility-scale solar.
Companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google are among the growing list of corporate entities with an appetite for local renewable energy, and they are building data centers right here in Ohio. These data centers use large amounts of electricity, creating remarkable demand for Ohio-based clean energy. And municipalities, like the city of Columbus, are increasingly demanding a 100% renewable energy supply for their residents and businesses. In 2019, renewable energy consumption surpassed coal for the first time since 1885.
In an effort to understand the economic value the solar industry could bring to Ohio, the Utility- Scale Solar Energy Coalition commissioned a study through Ohio University that shows compelling results. Ohio’s utility-scale solar industry can create more than $18 billion in economic activity, supporting tens of thousands of jobs and helping to attract new business to Ohio.
The study shows that if only half of the solar capacity currently being considered in the state were to be built, Ohio would have enough clean solar power to supply the equivalent of 1.5 million homes, create 54,113 construction jobs and 618 operations and maintenance careers. This would spark $9.6 billion of economic value for Ohio during the construction phase of these projects and another $6.4 billion during the operations and maintenance of the facilities, cementing Ohio’s ongoing legacy as an energy powerhouse.
Utility-scale solar projects offer landowners lease terms that can help diversify their income. Some farm families have used the funds from leasing their lands to solar projects to help keep their family farms in their family. When a solar lease ends, use of the land is returned to the owner in the same or better shape as when it was leased. Local governments are empowered with tools like Ohio’s "payment in lieu of taxes" program that keeps tax revenue from these projects in the local community.
According to the study, this can generate more than $67.5 million in annual revenue and more than $2.7 billion of new local tax revenues over the life of these projects. This will benefit counties, schools and other local government taxing entities like health systems, senior citizen and developmental disability funds, EMS, fire, 911 and libraries. Solar projects tend to be one of the highest revenue sources for local rural governments and can directly support economic recovery following the distress created by the ongoing pandemic.
The benefits of solar are no longer an aspiration for the future. Earlier this year, in a historic moment for our state, the first utility-scale solar project broke ground. Two others have since broken ground, and there are many other active projects currently pending before state regulators with new project applications continuing to come forward.
Ohio has an opportunity to build on our legacy. We have the land, workforce and infrastructure that will allow solar to serve as an economic engine for Ohio. We’re entering a new era and this is just the beginning.
Jason Rafeld is executive director of the Utility-Scale Solar Energy Coalition.