Miller City Solar Farm Discussion - Putnam Sentinel

PUTNAM COUNTY — “From a project perspective, we did file our interconnection request [with PJM Interconnection]. We haven’t gotten the letter back with our ‘que number’ yet, but we have filed. So, we’re starting that process,” said Jeff Reinkemeyer with Avangrid, an energy developer working towards building a solar farm in Miller City. He was speaking at a meeting held with the county’s commissioners in order to update them on the project.

“The size of the project is still 150 [mega watts]?” asked Commissioner Michael Lammers.

“Yeah. We filed as a 150,” answers Reinkemeyer. “We built up our estimate. We’re already getting a lot of interest from customers for PJM projects, and this is one of the projects that we’re responding with now”

According to its website, PJM Interconnection is a regional transmission organization (RTO) that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Should the proposed solar farm move forward to completion, it is private companies within these markets that Avangrid expects to serve.

For the upcoming year, Avangrid informed the commissioners that it intends to work towards the obtaining the necessary permits from the state in order to finalize the project’s finances. This will involve receiving a permit from the Ohio Development Services Agency. As one of its final steps in the permitting process, ODSA will contact Putnam County to affirm that an Alternative Energy Zone is in place, or a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Resolution has been agreed to by the commissioners.

The commissioners went into executive session to further discuss potential contracts with Avangrid. Once out of the executive session, Commissioner Lammers offered, “It was a very constructive meeting, and we are moving forward as quickly as possible.”

Prior to the executive session, the Sentinel took the opportunity to ask Reinkemeyer about the cost of solar energy when compared to other sources. In response, he directed attention to the banking firm Lazard, which publishes an annual report on the levelized cost of energy, with the most recent one published in November of 2018.

The ‘levelized cost’ refers to the unit-cost of energy generation throughout the utility’s projected lifetime. Regarding the proposed solar farm, that would be the cost of each MGh produced averaged over thirty years. By levelizing costs, you can then compare the unit-cost of producing one MGh of electricity using Solar PV versus other generating sources, such as coal.

Levelized cost can also be used to compare vehicles when buying a car. Most car owners drive their vehicle for around 10 years before purchasing another. Gasoline is then purchased on an ongoing basis, adding to the vehicles overall lifetime cost. By averaging out the additional fuel costs on a yearly basis over the expected lifetime of the vehicle, and then adding that cost to its base price, you can gain a ‘levelized cost’ of owning a car (excluding insurance costs).

The continuous purchase of gasoline makes most traditional cars more expensive over the course of their lifetime when compared to newer models of all-electric vehicles. An argument some manufacturers of electric vehicles are beginning to make.

Likewise, a solar farm, once built, does not need to regularly move entire mountains in West Virginia in order to serve as a reliable provider of electricity. Making the levelized cost of solar production competitive with those energy providers who, in addition to generating electricity, must also undertake the extraction of their fuel source from the earth.

Lazard’s report shows that utility scale solar photovoltaic crystalline (the kind Avangrid hopes to install in Miller city) can be expected to have a levelized cost of $40-$46 MGh during a solar facility’s expected lifetime of operation. Coal, by comparison has a levelized cost of $60-$143 MGh. Utility scale wind hits the lowest cost at $29-$56 MGh over its expected lifetime, though utility scale SV crystalline solar remains competitively within that range.

These projections do not include costs such as maintaining transmission wires or otherwise upgrading equipment. Costs which impact all energy sources. It also does not contain the costs of complying with various environmental regulations. Costs likely to have the greatest effect only on carbon and methane producing sources of energy.