Columbus Dispatch, July 20th
The nonprofit utility said it will build capacity of 300 megawatts in a series of projects across several states and over several years, with plans to break ground on the first segment this year. Marc Gerken, AMP's chief executive, argues that the plan makes sense for the municipal utilities that his company serves. He sees solar power as "peak" capacity, which means it would be relied upon for the hottest months of summer, when power demand is at its highest and the sun is shining brightest. That would cover electricity needs that otherwise would be met by peaking plants, which are typically gas-fired power plants that are used for only brief periods each year. Another consideration is the possibility of federal environmental rules that would increase the costs of traditional power sources such as coal. If the older sources become more expensive, renewable sources become more attractive, he said.
The country had 429 megawatts of solar power installed last year, according to preliminary figures from the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group. Of that total, 85 percent was from small systems installed on homes and businesses. Only 15 percent, or 66 megawatts, was from utility companies. A lot of announcements don't actually turn out," said Ken Zweibel, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute. He estimates that 300 megawatts of solar power would cost more than $1 billion to build.
The industry has had a series of big projects announced, scheduled to be built in the next five years. The largest is a 550-megawatt project being developed in California for use by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Known as the Topaz Solar Farm, the array will cover about 10 square miles in a part of the country that has some of the country's most- abundant sunlight. The developers hope to be done by 2014.
Three other projects would be 300 megawatts each: two in California and one in New Mexico. Each is scheduled to be complete by 2015, according to the Solar Electric Power Association, another trade group.
To put it in perspective, Cook Nuclear Plant is approximately 2200-megawatts. So to replace our two unit site, it would take 40 square miles of solar arrays.
Why Ohio? Two years ago, Governor Strickland signed Senate Bill 221, a measure that requires utilities to produce 25 percent of their electricity from so-called advanced sources by 2025. Solar power was the only energy source that got its own piece of the pie in the law. Solar must compose 0.5 percent of overall electricity by 2025, which translates to roughly 400 megawatts. Notably, the law applies only to investor-owned utilities, a group that includes American Electric Power, FirstEnergy, Duke Energy and Dayton Power and Light. Rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, such as AMP's clients, are exempt.
So far, AEP has made the largest investment in meeting the requirement. The Columbus-based utility helped develop the Wyandot project and has a contract to buy all the power produced there. AEP now has enough solar capacity to meet the benchmarks for 2010 through 2012. To meet subsequent goals, AEP plans to commission a series of solar arrays that would produce about 12 megawatts each. The next one likely will be announced next year.