Imagine an area the size of 2,000 football fields covered in solar panels. Then imagine an even larger area dotted with hundreds of wind turbines. That's a hint of the scale of a proposal from American Electric Power to finance 500 megawatts of wind energy and 400 megawatts of solar - eye-popping numbers that some renewable-energy advocates love, while consumer advocates and others get heartburn.
Imagine an area the size of 2,000 football fields covered in solar panels. Then imagine an even larger area dotted with hundreds of wind turbines.
That's a hint of the scale of a proposal from American Electric Power to finance 500 megawatts of wind energy and 400 megawatts of solar -- eye-popping numbers that some renewable-energy advocates love, while consumer advocates and others get heartburn.
It would more than double the state's wind-power capacity and nearly quadruple the state's solar capacity.
"It's a great step," said Bruce Burcat, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, a group of wind-energy companies. "Our hope is it leads to a lot more."
His coalition is one of the 11 parties that signed onto the plan, a proposed settlement of an AEP case, which is now subject to approval or rejection by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Opponents say the plan will lead to an increase in customer bills and a disruption in the electricity market.
"The fixed-cost obligation that's being put on ratepayers is just irresponsible," said Tom Stacy, a Logan County resident who has campaigned against wind-energy projects. He describes himself as an "independent ratepayer advocate."
The renewable-energy provisions are an addition to a proposal in which AEP seeks a profit guarantee for selected power plants. Under the provisions, AEP would own up to 50 percent of the projects and would cover costs through a charge to customers. The payment method would put the new assets under a form of traditional regulation, which is different from the recent practice in Ohio of having power sources compete in an open market.
"This is an aggressive, pro-renewable proposal," Terri Flora, spokeswoman for AEP Ohio, said in an email. "We think it is reasonable and will work diligently toward those goals."
The plan says AEP would give preference to Appalachian Ohio as the location for solar development. That likely would lead manufacturers of solar components to locate in the region, based on what has happened with other large solar projects.
"The solar-energy industry is the fastest growing in the country, and it's being placed in the part of the state with the greatest economic decline," said Dan Sawmiller, a staff member for the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign, which has endorsed AEP's plan.
Ohio's solar industry already has 221 businesses that employ about 4,300 people, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Wind energy also has a big footprint, with 62 manufacturing plants and thousands of employees, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
The plan, however, is raising red flags for some of the companies that depend on the competitive market to sell electricity. They are concerned about flooding the market with renewable energy.
"I cringe for the solar-installation industry because they'll be crowded out," said Gary Lakritz, president of Knollwood Energy in New Jersey, a solar-energy consultant whose clients include many Ohio residents with rooftop solar panels.
He thinks a sudden increase in solar installations might affect the market for solar renewable-energy credits. The credits, which are traded in a multistate market, are an essential part of how residents pay for small solar projects. If AEP or anyone else finances a big increase in the supply of solar power, then the price of credits likely will fall and lead to a reduction in small solar installations.
The plan's 500 megawatts of wind energy would enter a state with two major wind farms that have a combined 403 megawatts. If a few smaller wind farms are added to the list, the current statewide total is 432 megawatts, according to the wind trade group.
A megawatt is roughly enough electricity to provide for the needs of 1,000 houses. However, wind and solar power often perform below their listed capacity because the wind isn't always blowing and the sun isn't always shining.
It is easy to see how AEP could meet the wind portion of its plan, considering that wind developers have already gotten regulatory approval, but have not yet built, projects that add up to 1,401 megawatts.
The story is different with solar power. AEP is proposing to build 400 megawatts, which would be nearly four times the 106 megawatts already in place, according to the solar trade group.
AEP has said it aims to begin soliciting bids for the projects 45 days after the plan is approved and to have the wind and solar installations completed by the end of 2021. The PUCO would have to approve the spending along the way.
How much would the projects cost? That is a moving target, as the costs of renewable energy, particularly solar, continue to decrease.
And yet, considering the scale of the plans and the costs of other projects, experts say the costs will be in the billions of dollars. There is no information available about what the monthly charges might be for consumers.