But the idea drew no interest from a large utility and potential partner, the American Electric Power Company (AEP).
Winning the Interest of AEP
Mr. Wilhelm said that he thought some more and realized that to run the huge shovels that strip-mined the coal, the coal companies had erected a vast electricity infrastructure, most of which was still in place. “It was a utility-scale solar project waiting to happen,” he realized. He went back to AEP with this idea. “This time you could see that people were starting to sit up and listen.” At the end of the meeting he had an agreement: if he could build a solar plant, the utility would buy its entire output for the next 20 years.
A key objective of the project, Mr. Wilhelm said, is to maximize job creation in the state of Ohio. He said that he planned to buy 250,000 solar panels, and that the likely European manufacturer would base its permanent North American operation in Ohio, creating 350 manufacturing jobs. “We are absolutely building out an Ohio-based supply chain in every instance we can,” he said. “We are a state of steel vendors: we’ll get a supplier to build the racking system to mount these things. Then silver paste: a fundamental ingredient of solar panels. A company in Jackson, Ohio, is the largest silver recycler in the world. Already in Cleveland is a manufacturer of silver paste supplying the solar industry in the U.S. We are going to create a total of at least 650 direct jobs, and probably four times as many indirect jobs.”
Mr. Wilhelm recalled many technologies in which Ohio had been a national leader. The first U.S. oil derrick was built in Ohio; more coal was transported out of Nelsonville, Ohio, than any other train station. “Today,” he said, “when you study this transitional energy economy, you see the opportunities that exist here. We can build nuclear containment vessels; for natural gas, we have the Marcellus shale and the Utica shale; for carbon sequestration, the Mount Simon formation covers much of western Ohio.”
“Just as we once led the world innovating in the old form of energy,” Mr. Wilhelm concluded, “I guarantee you that with the Third Frontier and other current programs this transitional energy period is going to be an exciting new phase in our state’s history.”
Dr. Burbaum said that he grew up during the years of the “space race” when he learned to believe in the good that can come from Federal programs in advanced science and technology. After earning a PhD in chemistry from Harvard University, where he worked on biochemical energetics, he spent the first two decades of his career in pharmaceutical and biotech companies, “which