The State of Ohio is rich in fossil fuel-fired power plants. As many of the older power plants reach the end of their useful lives, Ohio utilities are exploring the option of co-firing coal with biomass energy materials, such as wood chips, agricultural crops and wood pellets. Within the past few months, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has certified three, large co-firing biomass power plants as qualifying renewable energy generation facilities.

On September 8, 2010, the PUCO certified two facilities: 1) the 100 MW Picway Generating Station owned by AEP and located in Columbus, Ohio and 2) the six unit, 1,125 MW Walter C. Beckjord Generating Station in New Richmond Ohio owned collectively by Duke Energy Ohio, Dayton Power & Light, and AEP. Both of these certification applications sailed through the PUCO and received certificates based upon a strict reading of Ohio law.

The third facility through the pipeline, and the first to be certificated, was FirstEnergy’s 156 MW R. E. Burger facility located in Belmont County, Ohio. Intervening parties in the Burger case noted that, unlike the other two biomass power plants to be certificated, the Burger facility poses an immediate threat to Ohio’s renewable energy marketplace because a recent amendment to Senate Bill 221 will give greater weight to certain RECs from the Burger facility. Because of the unique nature of this case, several intervening parties filed applications for rehearing that remain pending in PUCO Case No. 09-1940-EL-REN.

The approval of these three applications demonstrates the increasing frequency of the conversion of traditional fossil fuel-fired power plants to renewable energy generation facilities. As the existing fossil-fuel fired power plants in Ohio continue to age, and the utilities explore the feasibility of biomass co-firing, we anticipate seeing an influx of additional renewable energy certification filings in the coming years.