Dr. Wessner asked Mr. Leidich of FirstEnergy if he would invest in wind power or solar power, given the uncertainties of forward pricing. Mr. Leidich said his company was very active in renewables, but agreed that the economics were a significant challenge. “You have to look at the long term,” he said. “We would invest nothing if we looked at just the spot price of oil or gas. We’re not inactive in renewables, but we’re not doing everything people want us to do. We are active on the LEEDCo board, and trying to help work through the process.”
Dr. Wessner also asked Dr. Wagner how he would be able to compete with Chinese industry on price, given the lower costs and lighter regulations in China. Dr. Wagner said that an offshore industry did not necessarily have to be competitive on price from the outset. “The first nuclear plant at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, cost 50 cents/kwHr in 1957, while the cost of nuclear today is arguably 3 to 4 cents. The offshore wind industry is in its infancy. The machines will become so large that they cannot be transported from China. The question is: Will the companies that are making offshore wind turbines be American owned or Chinese owned. They will be built here.” He agreed that the price of offshore wind has to come down; “we have to be at least half of where we are now to even be in the game.”
An ‘Incredibly Collaborative’ Process
A questioner asked about the experience of Cape Wind, in Massachusetts, which has gone through 12 to 15 years of regulatory and permitting problems. Dr. Wagner said that the Ohio regulatory experience had been different so far, with much more engagement at every level. “This has been a public engagement process since the beginning, a bottoms-up approach. The community, business leaders, the state, regulatory groups, and power siting board have been incredibly collaborative. We met with the Council on Environmental Quality, and at the end of the discussion, they said we were the first group that came to us and said that government is doing something right.”
Mr. Wilhelm said that, as someone who is still new to new energy development, he felt it would be possible to meet renewable power standards and do little of lasting benefit for Ohio. For example, the renewable portfolio standard could be met while buying equipment from abroad, which would not help local businesses. He praised AEP, First Energy, and others for focusing on such issues and trying hard to maximize the local and regional economic benefit associated with these projects.