July 30, 2014

Medina
Mostly cloudy
64°F

Ohio energy company’s plan to use solar farm hurts panel maker

TOLEDO — The decision by Ohio utility regulators to block plans for American Electric Power Co. to use power from a southeast Ohio solar farm is having an impact on a solar-panel maker in northwest Ohio.

Isofoton North America executives were counting on the $180 million project to bring new jobs to their solar-panel plant in Napoleon.

The company has 33 employees at the plant southwest of Toledo but had plans to eventually hire 330 workers.

A company official says there are other projects in the works but the company was counting on the southeast Ohio solar farm to get the factory off the ground.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio voted Wednesday against funding the Turning Point project that was touted in 2010 as the largest solar energy project east of the Mississippi River Regulators said AEP hadn’t demonstrated that investing in the project would benefit ratepayers, nor that it was necessary to meet the company’s renewable energy requirements.

The solar farm planned near the wildlife conservancy called The Wilds was projected to create hundreds of jobs and produce enough electricity to power 25,000 homes.

Under recent changes to Ohio law, utilities are required to generate a portion of their electricity through alternative energy sources, including solar.

AEP had agreed to purchase power from the facility for 20 years to help fulfill state renewable energy rules. The PUCO ruling blocked that arrangement.

Meanwhile, future job-creation goals are up in the air at the solar-panel plant in northwest Ohio, said Michael Peck, chairman of Isofoton North America.

“Turning Point represents that kind of critical mass purchase order that you need to get a factory up and running,” he told The Blade.

The European solar panel maker put its North American headquarters in Ohio mainly because of the Turning Point development, Peck said.

Isofoton received a $5 million loan from the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority and a $3 million loan from the Ohio Development Services Agency to get started.

Peck said he still intends to repay the state.

A spokesman for the Turning Point project has said its developers are still hopeful that the proposed solar farm can be built.

David Celona told The Plain Dealer that the developers could convince power companies and other large electricity customers to sign long-term agreements to buy the power.