Last week, on October 5th, Ohio Governor Strickland announced with great fanfare that a new 49.9 MW solar project, dubbed Turning Point Solar, will likely (pending approval of regulators) be constructed in a remote part of southeastern Ohio. In governor Strickland’s press release, he is quoted as saying: “We recognized the future when we established our state’s aggressive renewable portfolio standard, invested in the energy industry and eliminated taxes for new energy facilities to create jobs and grow Ohio’s advanced energy industry,” said Strickland. “Today, the future has recognized Ohio. One of the largest solar farms in the nation is going to be built here in Ohio, with solar panels and solar trackers made in Ohio, built by Ohioans with the know-how taught in Ohio colleges.”
Zack Space, Ohio Congressman for the district in which the project will be located, jumped onto the political bandwagon and said that: “Today’s announcement of more than 300 jobs coming to Southeastern Ohio provides an enormous boost for our economy in the short-term, and paves the way for the kind of long-term development that will help Appalachian Ohio reverse the economic disparity that has been so devastating to our towns and communities.” Not missing an opportunity to appeal to his constituency, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown was quoted as saying: “Today’s announcement shows how Ohio is poised to lead the nation in clean energy” and that “Solar energy has the potential to bring a host of benefits to southeastern Ohio, including hundreds of new manufacturing jobs and clean energy for hundreds of thousands of rural Ohioans.”
The Turning Point Solar project is indeed a terrific solar project. Built on about 500 acres, the project will turn a former strip mine into green power generation. Since the project is chartered to use about 239,000 c-Si solar modules from Isophoton, it could (if state and local incentives are approved) reasonably employ 200-300 “Ohioans” to build modules in a 60 MW facility from solar cells made in Spain. Approximately another 300 employees would be needed for a year or two to build and install the project itself, and Prius Energy, that makes trackers and racking systems for solar modules, could reasonably employ a few more people. As importantly, the utility company American Electric Power (AEP) should be applauded for agreeing in an MOU to a 20-year PPA that underwrites the project and helps AEP to reach its RPS goals.
Isn’t it interesting, though, that this announcement occurred a few weeks before mid-term elections take place? Would the fact that Governor Strickland and Congressman Space are in tight races to keep their respective jobs have anything to do with the timing of the announcement and their repeated mentioning jobs for their constituencies? Also, why would such a large installation be limited to precisely 49.9 MW? Why not 50 MW? Could this slight difference be driven by easier approval of regulators?
Additionally, note that the Isophoton will build modules, not cells, in the US which, when combined with module manufacturing in the U.S. by SunTech Power and Yingli Green Energy, confirms a likely trend in which solar companies plan to build bulky c-Si modules here but not the easy-to-ship, more labor intensive c-Si cells.