In the 12 years since I co-founded a Midwest solar company, I have witnessed exciting and dynamic growth in the solar energy market across the Midwest. While our industry is accustomed to the ebbs and flows in the political energy landscape, I was particularly disappointed in 2019 when Ohio lawmakers passed HB6 and — with a single piece of legislation — reduced the viability of clean energy projects in Ohio.
HB6 has impacted our region’s ability to compete globally and attract investments, new businesses, and jobs in clean energy technology. Ohio should be embracing the economic potential of its solar industry, and we need to start by immediately repealing HB6 and then start a discussion about an energy policy that aligns with the 21st century economy.
Let’s take the example of building solar for public schools. Earlier this year Inovateus provided 10 solar installations for six Ohio school districts (Ayersville, Elida, Holgate, Liberty, Wauseon and Millcreek-West Unity). On average, these solar arrays save the schools approximately 30% on their annual electric bills. Those savings translate to thousands of dollars annually, which schools can spend on supplies for students and teachers, improved facilities, and enhanced curriculums. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, these savings could not come at a better time. Districts need every penny to adapt to the new normal of COVID-19.
With the energy policy laid out in HB6, will Ohio schools continue to benefit on the same level from new solar installations? Probably not. Solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) helped offset the upfront cost of solar. HB6 slashed the Ohio SREC market, driving down the value of clean energy at a time when Midwest states with SREC markets are seeing a healthy, growing demand for solar. When a school “goes solar”, the benefits are far-reaching. On-site STEM learning opportunities are provided to students, and schools can lead by example through environmental stewardship.
And when we build solar anywhere in Ohio, it creates jobs. We partner with Ohio-based companies, like Athens-based Third Sun Solar, which has been serving the marketplace and creating jobs in Appalachia for over 20 years. According to the most recent Clean Jobs Midwest report, Ohio’s clean energy industry employs 112,000 Ohioans, 9,000 of which work in solar. HB6 pulled the rug out from under these Ohio workers and businesses.
With the right policies in place, this industry could grow substantially. A new report issued just this week by the Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition in Ohio showed how large-scale solar projects could drive more than $18B in economic activity and over 50,000 jobs in the state. These well-paying jobs cannot be outsourced; they are construction workers, specialized installers, electricians, and people who sell the technology.
If HB6 is not repealed and replaced with policies that invest in a 21st century clean energy future, Ohio is at risk of losing clean energy projects — and the jobs and benefits that come with them — to its neighbors in the other Midwest states or, more alarmingly, competitors on the coasts and abroad.
The solar industry will flock to Ohio to build new projects if strong clean energy policy can be passed. I look forward to building new solar for Ohio schools throughout the state. But in order to realize the full potential of this opportunity, the state must first repeal HB6, then replace it with new 21st century clean energy policies that serve Ohioans.
T.J. Kanczuzewski is Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Inovateus Solar based in South Bend, Indiana