By John Seewer, Associated Press
TOLEDO, Ohio — The opening of a plant that turns natural gas into electricity is the first of what’s expected to be a wave to come into production across Ohio in the next few years.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich says these natural gas plants are a big part of the state’s energy future and will usher in huge investments, new jobs and lower utility bills.
Close to a dozen natural gas power plants are being built or are in the planning stages around the state. Most, though, are on the drawing board as developers wait to see if lawmakers will offer help to struggling coal and nuclear power plants.
If they don’t — Kasich, a Republican, is against the idea at this point — backers in the natural gas industry are certain there will be billions invested in new plants around the state.
While most of the plants are being targeted for development near the shale fields in eastern Ohio, others are being built in southwestern and northwestern corners of the state.
The key is having access to natural gas pipelines, the electrical grid and a large supply of water to run the cooling system, said Peter Rigney, who oversaw construction of the newly opened natural gas plant in suburban Toledo.
Bill Siderewicz, owner of Boston-based Clean Energy Future LLC, which developed the Ohio plant and has three more in the works, says the state has room for 15 natural gas plants within the next decade.
The boom in the shale fields of Appalachia gives the state easy access and a steady supply of natural gas, especially now that major pipelines are in the works.
The governor said nearly two weeks ago at the opening of a new $800 million natural gas plant near Toledo that it makes sense to encourage these types of operations.
“We have all this natural gas in the ground,” Kasich said. “If we don’t take advantage of it, what’s the point of having it?”
It also comes at a time when advances in technology has made natural gas much more efficient to operate — the plant near Toledo can function with just two workers during a shift — and coal and nuclear plants are becoming more costly to operate.
The biggest worry is what happens if natural gas replaces coal as the dominant source of electricity in the state and then there is a spike in prices for natural gas.
All of a sudden those promised lower utility bills could be gone.
That’s why the coal and nuclear industry while making its case for government assistance say it’s important not to become too dependent on one energy source.
Kasich says he wants “a whole energy mix” that includes solar and wind as well as nuclear, coal and natural gas.