Columbus has approved changes to how the city purchases energy, as American Electric Power (AEP) looks to increase its investment in renewable energy.
Over 100 communities in Ohio (including Columbus) have opted for community aggregation, which pools purchasing power to access cheaper electricity rates.
Several large solar projects are underway, with American Electric Power signing deals with BQ Energy Development and Savion, and buying the entire output of the Columbus Solar Park in Jackson Township.
Uncertainty over coal industry lobbying, Trump’s win in Ohio counter-balanced by potential of Biden administration’s climate change war-chest to turbocharge state-level green energy trends.
With the successful adoption of Ballot Issue 1 during the recent election, Columbus has lent its voice to the growing demand for renewable energy in Ohio. In states like Ohio, ratepayers can choose their electricity supplier independently from their local utility, which allows customers to choose how the electricity they use is generated.
For ecologically conscious consumers, this means they can contract with renewable energy providers, providing demand and a market incentive for more green energy capacity.
The passage of the aforementioned ballot issue means that Columbus – Ohio’s largest city at 922,000 residents and America’s 14th largest municipality – has embarked on creating the state’s largest community aggregation program.
Since 1999, over 100 Ohioan communities have opted for community aggregation. Aggregation programs (while allowing opt-outs) pool purchasing power, helping bring about cheaper rates.
Columbus’ program seeks to use renewable energy as the default option to power the city. Specifically, Columbus plans to provide residents with 100% renewable energy by 2022: doing so is projected to cut city emissions by 20%. This is of particular interest since Ohio ranks as the sixth-largest emitter among US states.
One man’s trash
A sign of this green energy focus can be seen in the recent announcement by AEP to purchase the entire 50MW output of the Columbus Solar Park in Jackson Township. The solar facility is scheduled for completion in 2022 and is operated by BQ Energy Development, a firm that specializes in converting landfills into solar farms.
BQ is involved because the Columbus Solar Park is being built on 173 acres of the former Model Landfill which closed in 1985. As of writing, BQ has signed a 25-year lease (with an option to extend) with the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio. The 150,000 solar panels are expected to provide enough power for 5,000 homes, or around 1% of AEP’s customers in the area.
Speaking about the deal, AEP President, Greg Hall said that:
“The Columbus Solar Park project fits well with AEP’s commitment to sustainability and the communities we serve, and turning a former landfill into a solar facility is a win-win for the environment and Central Ohio.”
Similarly, BQ managing director, Paul Curran explained that, “as the residents of Columbus consider the bold step of increasing their use of renewable energy, it will be important that they have confidence that the amount of local generation of that clean power is really there.”
AEP’s deal with BQ was followed only days later by an announcement on October 30th, 2020 that AEP Energy Partners has decided to buy 200MW worth of solar output from the Atlanta Farm solar facility, run by Savion, in Ohio.
Savion’s 600,000-panel facility is slated to begin construction in mid to late 2021. These deals are evidence of AEP’s wider goal to slash emissions in its portfolio and position itself as a leader in renewable energy offerings. The company has managed to cut emissions by 65% over the past two decades, and is on track to slash a further 70% by 2030.
Political uncertainty around the presidential election does not seem to have dampened AEP’s plans in this regard, with the company planning $2 billion in renewables investment by 2024.
Despite strong lobbying from the coal industry and the fact that Ohio voted for Donald Trump on November 3rd, AEP CEO, Nick Akins is optimistic about the prospect of a Biden administration and its impact on the Ohio energy sector.
Citing Biden’s $1.7 trillion climate change war chest, Akins told CNBC a week before the election that “if a Biden administration comes in, we certainly expect more aggressiveness in terms of the [emissions] targets, but we’re already moving forward very quickly […].”