MARION, Ohio - A growing number of Ohio farms, businesses, schools and other organizations are turning to on-site renewable energy generation projects to meet some or all of their electricity needs.
As the green energy movement gains popularity, Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) is offering training and other educational resources to help businesses and other organizations make informed decisions on energy investments, including the feasibility of implementing on-site renewable energy projects.
On-site renewable energy production is part of a larger trend called distributed energy, which involves the generation of power through small, modular, decentralized energy systems located in or near the place where the energy will be used.
Expansion of distributed energy generation systems is being incentivized by states and utility companies via net-metering policies that allow consumers to generate their own electricity to offset a portion of what they purchase from a utility, said Eric Romich, an Ohio State University Extension field specialist in energy development and leader of OSU Extension's Energize Ohio signature program.
OSU Extension is the statewide outreach arm of CFAES.
"Ohio is one of three states in the U.S. that has no capacity limit on net-metering systems," Romich said. "This allows Ohio businesses to essentially neutralize the amount of electricity they purchase from a utility by investing in on-site electricity generation projects."
To disseminate details about Ohio's energy policy and share renewable energy strategies implemented by local companies, OSU Extension organized a workshop last March at Owens Community College in Findlay, focused on the development and financing of on-site green energy projects.
Co-sponsored by JobsOhio, the workshop provided participants with information and experiences from a panel of experts, including representatives from Ohio State, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the Ohio Treasurer's Office, First Energy, the Toledo Port Authority, One Energy LLC and Vaughn Industries.
Featured during the workshop were northwest Ohio companies that have recently implemented distributed energy projects at their facilities.
Cooper Farms, a producer of poultry and pork products, installed three 1.5-megawatt wind turbines in 2011 and 2012 at its Van Wert location. Tied for the largest net-metered wind project in Ohio, this renewable energy system produces 12 million kilowatt hours annually and offsets approximately 80 percent of the facility's electrical consumption.
Built by Findlay-based wind power company One Energy LLC, the Cooper Farms project was completed using over 90 percent Ohio labor, One Energy President Jereme Kent said.
"This is a financial investment. It just happens to be green," Kent said at the workshop. "We will never tell you, 'Go spend six or seven million dollars to be green.' We will tell you, 'Spend six or seven million dollars to be profitable, and if you can be green while doing this, great.'"
Kent said a project like the one built at Cooper Farms has a four-to-six-year return on investment, including warranty and maintenance costs.
A smaller project, this time involving solar power, was implemented by First Citizens National Bank at its main Upper Sandusky office in 2011. The 189-panel, 50-kilowatt system covers 10,000 square feet of the bank's rooftop. Developed and installed by Vaughn Industries of nearby Carey, the solar power system now produces 20 percent of the bank's electricity needs.
"We started looking into solar as part of an overall 'going green' campaign that includes recycling programs, e-statements and e-banking," bank President Mark Johnson said at the workshop. "It's been a very successful project in terms of the installation and the power that it has produced."
Johnson said the project has a three-year payback period and is warranted for 25 years of operation. As of February 2013, the system had generated 114,899 kilowatt-hours of electricity and avoided 184,662 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, he added.
"While financial savings and payback periods will vary on a case-by-case scenario, on-site distributed energy generation projects offer a variety of potential benefits," Romich said. "These include increased reliability, reduction of peak power demand, improvements in power quality, reduced emissions and decreased price volatility."
Nancy Bowen-Ellzey, an OSU Extension field specialist in community economics and co-organizer of the workshop with Romich, added that carrying out on-site energy projects also demonstrates a company's investment in a current location for the long term.
"With a good plan and reputable contractor, these projects are very beneficial for companies," she said.
Romich and Bowen-Ellzey said OSU Extension is working with JobsOhio and other partner organizations to organize similar distributed renewable energy workshops in other regions of the state. Also, the Energize Ohio signature program is developing a fact sheet on distributed energy generation.
The Findlay workshop is available online (PowerPoint slides and audio) at http://go.osu.edu/VEJ.