Ohio Utility Scale Solar: A recap of 2022 and looking ahead to 2023
2022 was a very active year for utility scale solar in Ohio. This article summarizes the key utility scale solar events of 2022 and highlights trends heading into 2023 in Ohio, including:
- Overview of cases approved and denied by the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB)
- Potential development headwinds in 2023
- The implementation of restriction zones by Ohio counties
- Recent “public interest” denials by the OPSB
- New proposed OPSB siting rules impacting solar
- Continued growth of battery storage in Ohio
Another active year at the OPSB
2022 marked another active year for utility scale solar at the OPSB, which has jurisdiction over projects with a nameplate capacity of 50 MW or greater. The following cases were approved in 2022:
- Union Ridge Solar, LLC (Case No. 20-1757-EL-BGN)
- AEUG Union Solar, LLC (Case No. 20-1405-EL-BGN)
- Tymochtee Solar (Case No. 21-0004-EL-BGN)
- Wild Grains Solar, LLC (21-0823-EL-BGN)
- Nottingham Solar LLC (Case No. 21-2070-EL-BGN)
- Dodson Creek Solar, LLC (Case No. 20-1814-EL-BGN)
- Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy, LLC (Case No. 20-1679-EL-BGN)
- Harvey Solar 1 Project, LLC (Case No. 21-0164-EL-BGN)
- Springwater Solar, LLC (Case No. 22-0094-EL-BGN)
In addition, the following projects submitted applications in 2022 and are still pending:
- Oak Run Solar, LLC (Case No. 22-0549-EL-BGN)
- Blossom Solar, LLC (Case No. 22-0151-EL-BGN)
- Fountain Point Solar (Case No. 21-1231-EL-BGN)
Most of these pending cases are expected to receive decisions in 2023.
As discussed further below, the OPSB also denied two solar applications in 2022 and another at the beginning of 2023.
A map showing all pending and approved solar facilities can be found on the OPSB website here.
Potential development headwinds in 2023 and beyond
Although there has been a steady increase in OPSB applications over the past few years, new utility scale solar development in Ohio may begin to slow in 2023. This potential decrease in new utility scale solar may also continue beyond 2023. Despite growing demand from Ohio corporations and communities to procure in-state renewable energy, a number of challenges may negatively impact the potential for new solar development. Development timelines have been significantly impacted by tariff uncertainty and supply chain issues. In addition, “queue reform” at PJM has led to, in some cases, multi-year delays in the interconnection process. Further, emerging trends in Ohio may frustrate some additional development, namely the increasing influence of local opposition in the siting process and the implementation of development restriction zones under Senate Bill 52 (both topics discussed in more detail below).
Construction commencing in earnest – and consequences
Out of over 6,000 MWs of OPSB-certificated solar projects, as of the beginning of 2023, only 450 MW are operational. However, construction activity significantly increased in 2022, with projects representing over 2,700 MW now currently under construction. With widespread construction in full swing, a number of trends may emerge in 2023. For example, most projects utilize the Qualified Energy Project tax abatement and payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program under R.C. 5727.75, which in part requires that at least 80% of the construction workforce be domiciled in Ohio. With so much solar construction in a tight labor market, some projects may struggle with meeting this Ohio workforce requirement. In addition, construction is generally the most disruptive phase of otherwise passive projects. Initiation of the construction phase for solar projects may increase local concern and opposition. Construction-related complaints or concerns may also influence the types of conditions that the OPSB will impose on projects. For example, OPSB Staff has recently recommended enhanced grading restrictions and plans, which was likely a reaction to increased construction activity.
Counties pass restriction zones under S.B. 52
Ohio Senate Bill 52, which became effective October 2021, provided additional local control over the siting of Ohio’s solar and wind energy facilities. In part, counties are given the power to review and block individual projects prior to the OPSB process. Additionally, counties may designate all or part of an unincorporated area of the county as a “restricted area” in which utility facility wind and solar projects cannot be permitted by the OPSB. These provisions only apply to projects not otherwise grandfathered by S.B. 52, which is based on the project’s status in the PJM queue. A detailed overview of S.B. 52 can be accessed here. The Bricker & Eckler team maintains a running chart of counties that have passed restriction zones and counties in the process of considering restriction zones. Please contact us if you have questions about a particular county.
OPSB denies projects on “public interest” finding
In the second half of 2021, the OPSB Staff recommended denial of a series of project applications based on the staff’s determination that those projects were not in the “public interest” (a required finding under Ohio’s siting law). The staff based these determinations on local opposition, including opposition from local governments. Some observers viewed this as a departure from previous OPSB precedent. The OPSB ultimately adopted the staff’s recommendations by denying applications for two separate cases, Birch Solar and Kingwood Solar, which were decided in October and December 2022, respectively. Both projects has already begun the appeal process. In January 2023, the Board started the new year off by denying the Cepheus Energy Project on similar “public interest” grounds. In 2023, it will be critical for the solar industry and interested stakeholders to monitor the extent to which local opposition continues to influence the state siting process.
OPSB utility scale solar project on reclaimed coal mine approved
In August 2022, the OPSB approved the Nottingham Solar Project, the first utility scale solar generation facility approved by OPSB on reclaimed mine land since 2018. This was the first solar generation facility sited on reclaimed mine land approved by the OPSB under enhanced application and siting requirements that OPSB began implementing in 2019. The project will convert nearly 600 acres of largely unusable land in Harrison County, Ohio, to a 100 MW solar facility.
OPSB rulemaking and new compliance division
In June 2022, the OPSB issued a comprehensive set of proposed rules, including those impacting solar. An overview of the proposed rules impacting solar facilities can be accessed here. Stakeholders have filed comments and reply comments, and a final OPSB decision regarding issuance of the rules is pending. Although the final rules have not been issued, some issues and themes from the rulemaking are already appearing in permit conditions and OPSB orders. In addition, the OPSB staff recently reorganized its internal structure to create a new compliance section to monitor adherence to permit conditions and address questions and complaints raised by the public.
More large energy storage projects in Ohio
A number of the approved and proposed utility scale solar projects are paired with battery storage systems. Currently, a total capacity of 187.3 MW battery storage has been approved to be co-located with utility scale projects. At this time, none of these battery energy storage systems are operational but at least 50 MW of capacity is currently under construction. Moreover, in October 2021, the OPSB approved the Flint Grid Energy Storage System, Ohio's first stand-alone battery energy storage system facility, to be reviewed and approved by OPSB. An overview article about that project is available here. In addition, the OPSB recently released a battery storage facilities map and statistics resource, which can be accessed here.
2022 News Articles of Note
- “AEP to miss target for 100% all clean energy by 2023” – AEP is the Columbus, Ohio aggregation supplier, which will eventually be supplied by 100% renewable energy. AEP will miss a goal to build or have under contract enough new Ohio-based solar and wind-generation facilities to meet 100% of its customers' power demand by the end of 2023. The new target is the end of 2024. In part, this article highlights the increasing demand by Ohioans for in-state renewable energy sources.
- Inside Climate News ran a series of articles highlighting the tensions around solar development in some Ohio communities: “The Energy Transition Runs into a Ditch in Rural Ohio,” “The Choice for Rural Officials: Oppose Solar Power or Face Revolt,” “One Man’s Determined Fight for Solar Power in Rural Ohio,” and “In the End, Solar Power Opponents Prevail in Williamsport, Ohio.”
- In 2022, Intel announced that it would locate a $20 billion manufacturing facility in Central Ohio, the largest economic development project in the state’s history. The announcement and coming development highlighted the growing link between Ohio’s manufacturing sector and renewable energy: “Ohio is making a comeback thanks to Intel, manufacturing wins,” “With Ohio about to becomes a chips-making hub, the time is now to embrace renewable energy,” “Intel to use renewable energy credits to achieve Ohio pledge.”
- In June 2022, the Central Ohio region suffered a severe, multi-day outage due to high demand and infrastructure failures. This event has elevated the discussion around grid reliability and solar and renewable energy projects’ potential role in supporting grid reliability. “AEP Ohio intentionally shut off power to some Great Columbus neighborhoods. Here’s why,” “Ohioans left in the dark with AEP power outages.”