SRECs in effectWritten by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo City Councilman Joe McNamara, at a Feb. 17 news conference, called for FirstEnergy to invest in solar energy. Specifically, he pointed to a 2008 state law (Senate Bill 221) that requires Ohio electric companies to develop renewable energies, with an emphasis on solar energy. The law mandates that a percentage of the companies’ electric distribution come from solar energy, or that the companies purchase Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) from other generators.
FirstEnergy has asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to excuse it from 2009 benchmarks as it said it could not find enough Ohio SRECs to purchase to meet the standard set by SB 221.
McNamara will chair a hearing of the Utilities and Public Service Committee on Feb. 28.
“I am publicly inviting FirstEnergy to attend this hearing and participate in the conversation,” McNamara said. “While the FirstEnergy subsidiaries legally have to answer to the PUCO for their failure to invest in solar, they ultimately have to answer to the communities to whom they serve. Investing in solar equals jobs. FirstEnergy should be a good community partner and invest in Toledo jobs.” (Read McNamara’s comments on page A4)
I met with McNamara on Feb. 18 to talk about his news conference. He has a long history of fighting for alternative energy and his actions on this topic are consistent with those efforts. McNamara has done his homework on the numbers, although as a businessman I would have preferred more direct communication between the councilman and the utility company before he went public to embarrass FirstEnergy with his criticism.
FirstEnergy, like its Columbia Gas of Ohio counterpart, is an easy target for politicians. Utility companies are businesses, but public perception often assumes they should be benevolent providers. It has long been a popular misconception that Northwest Ohio suffers from the state’s highest utility rates, a demonstrable falsehood. Now, the advent of alternative energy offers another stick to swing at the utility piñata.
First and foremost, it is important to note that I oppose any government effort to force one industry to subsidize its de facto competition. But it is the law, for now, and therefore must be respected. The PUCO has the responsibility to enforce compliance, and will undoubtedly hold FirstEnergy accountable.
But for McNamara, this is dicey territory in terms of Toledo’s business image and its need to connect the ways of today with the ways of tomorrow. And this week’s news that First Solar may be looking to open a factory in Arizona — coupled with news that Xunlight opened its new factory in China — makes me wonder just how dedicated the solar energy industry is to Northwest Ohio.
FirstEnergy is heavily regulated and watched by the government and the public. But it is still a business, and should enjoy the rights of any American business to make its investments and serve its shareholders as it sees fit, without excessive interference or bullying.
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com.