Ohio coalition striving to develop solar energyWritten by Duane Ramsey | | email@example.com
Local businessman Norm Johnston is leading the effort by Ohio Advanced Energy (OAE) to promote plans for an Ohio Solar Cluster to make the state a center for solar energy.
Northwest Ohio has already taken the lead in the development and production of solar and other alternative energies, said Johnston, chairman of the OAE.
The time is right to move forward with plans to expand solar energy in the state and particularly in Northwest Ohio.
“Waiting out our economic situation in Ohio is not an option,” Johnston said in a recent statement. “It’s going to take bold decisive action on the part of forward-thinking individuals to help bring this state back.”
Johnston said we must take advantage of the unique window for federal stimulus funds. The OAE called for the state to allocate 40 percent of the $100 million in federal stimulus money earmarked for energy to further develop the solar industry in Ohio.
OAE officials met with Gov. Strickland in May after he signed Senate Bill 221 into law which requires Ohio to reach 25 percent alternative energy by 2025 with solar being part of the total energy package.
“If Ohio reaches that energy goal by 2016, it could get 30 percent of money invested back from Washington,” Johnston said.
He and OAE director Terrence O’Donnell met with Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) at the National Academy of Science Summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy. Kaptur delivered a keynote speech on alternative energy at the summit.
Kaptur has been a longtime supporter of solar energy development in Northwest Ohio, said Johnston. Kaptur and the OAE also support the use of wind power in Lake Erie as another viable source of alternative energy.
Solar and wind are complementary renewable energies whose costs will be equal with fossil fuels. Both are much less expensive than fossil fuel during peak energy usage, according to the OAE.
For example, one hour of peak solar energy in the late afternoon can meet the peak electricity demand for air conditioning, Johnston cited. Solar fields, such as the ones in Toledo, can provide electricity at rates that are competitive with what Ohioans are paying now, he said.
“We can use the automotive lean manufacturing technology in this area to make solar panels at a lower cost,” Johnston said.
He said solar can be less expensive than coal and gas generated electricity with the production of less expensive solar modules and about one-half the cost of the balance of operating systems.
Toledo has more solar exposure than any other area in Ohio with 25 to 31 percent more than Cleveland, Columbus or Youngstown. This area also has 21 to 31.5 percent more than Germany, where the demand for solar energy exists and the government supports it, Johnston said.
The OAE reports that building 1.5 square miles or more than 1,000 acres of solar farms in 30 locations across the state would produce approximately 300 megawatts of clean solar energy. Building solar fields where the grids already exists makes more sense than building them in Arizona or California, Johnston said.
“Now, we’re seeing evidence that solar fields are working in Northwest Ohio,” said Steve Weathers, president and CEO of the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP). “Our role is to be the facilitator that brings the right partners and resources to the table to make the plan work for this region.”
Weathers cited examples of the solar installations at the Ohio Air National Guard base at Toledo Express Airport and UT’s Scott Park Campus of Energy and Innovation, the two largest solar fields in Ohio.
The RGP is working with the OAE, UT and many local businesses in Northwest Ohio to develop sources for solar energy products and installation. Local companies supporting OAE include Owens Corning, Pilkington, Rudolph|Libbe, Nextronex, Xunlight and Advanced Distributed Generation.
“Johnston understands the solar energy field and has had tremendous success in business, but he’s also a visionary when it comes to alternative energy,” said Norm Rapino, president and CEO of Nextronex Energy Systems.
Rapino said his company is close to finalizing an additional financial investment in Nextronex to make solar inverters here and expects to make an announcement next week.
Ohio Advanced Energy is a statewide nonprofit trade association formed in 2007 by a coalition of 40 academic and business members dedicated to the development of alternative energy in the state. OAE evolved from its predecessor, Northwest Ohio Alternative Energy, founded in 2003 by Johnston and the late Harold McMaster, a pioneer of solar energy in this area.
Johnston is CEO of Solar Fields, Solar Cells Investors, and Solar Kits USA LLCs, Hydrogentech Ltd. and McMaster Energy Enterprises, all based in NW Ohio.