Home-generation electricity hookup about to get easy
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
John FunkPlain Dealer Reporter
Rules to make it easier and less costly for industry, business and even homeowners to generate their own electricity are just days away, Ohio's top utility regulator said Monday.
And a standard to force Ohio's utilities to buy or generate a certain percentage of power from green or "advanced" technologies could be a reality by year's end, a key Ohio lawmaker said.
The dual announcements came at a fuel cell forum sponsored by Cleveland State University's Levin College of Urban Affairs. The focus was "regulatory impediments" to the widespread commercialization of fuel cells in Ohio.
Alan Schriber, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, told the group that utilities by nature do not like competition. "Regulators must take down the barriers that are created by the utilities," he said, "and this is exactly what we are attempting to do."
Schriber said he expects the PUCO's five-member governing board to issue an order next week in a case, started more than a year ago, to encourage more production from alternative energy throughout a utility's power distribution system.
Utilities typically resist such change by expensive rates and charges related to interconnection - the flow of power to the utility - and the use of grid power when the alternative-energy source is not working.
Richard Stuebi, BP fellow for energy and environmental advancement at the Cleveland Foundation, said Ohio's utilities appear to have rates that have discouraged alternative generation. And that doesn't make sense in the face of the state's efforts to develop industries such as fuel cells, he said.
State Rep. Jim McGregor, a suburban Republican lawmaker and chairman of the newly created Alternative Energy Committee, said he expects lawmakers to write an advanced energy standard in the fall and make it law by the end of the year.
Such a standard, often called a "renewable portfolio standard," is a must, say developers of fuel cells, wind turbines and solar power. Otherwise, utilities will be able to keep alternative-energy technologies out.
McGregor said some big manufacturers oppose a renewable portfolio because they think it would raise overall rates. As a compromise, he said, Ohio's law could include sections that make it extremely easy to build alternative-power stations only if they're under a certain size, limiting the impact.
The opening of the floodgates on alternative energy may have something to do with the policies Gov. Ted Strickland has laid down in the first eight weeks of his administration. Strickland and running mate Lee Fisher campaigned on making green energy a reality in Ohio.
Mark Shanahan, the governor's energy adviser, told the group that the administration plans to set aside $250 million in tax-exempt financing to jump start "advanced energy" projects, which include wind, solar, fuel cells and clean coal.
CSU professor William Bowen said he organized the forum to spark public debate about the issue. American Electric Power sent a representative who participated in a panel.
FirstEnergy declined, saying it is not involved in policy development.