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Evan Blumer, a partner in New Harvest Ventures, which is backing the Turning Point solar project, says OU is rethinking its approach to how it will power its campus. (PROVIDED)

Turning Point solar project could power OU

Ohio University will soon request proposals to replace its existing electric supply contract, and a group that includes a proposed large-scale solar project could bid to be OU's future power provider.

Patricia Shorr, the principal of Spectrum Capital Energy, a developer of alternative energy projects, recently told OU officials her company might bid to replace the expiring contract, said Joe Lalley, OU’s senior associate vice president of information technologies and administrative services.

FirstEnergy currently provides the university’s electricity; OU’s contract with them expires in 2015.

The Turning Point solar project, a proposed solar power plant in Noble County, is within Spectrum Capital Energy’s portfolio.

A representative from Spectrum Capital Energy could not be reached for comment.

“Spectrum Capital is marketing this as part of a more complex solution to the university once they develop their Request for Proposal,” said Evan Blumer, a partner in New Harvest Ventures, the group behind the Turning Point project. “Patty Shorr has been leading from the marketing side.”

Backers of Turning Point, which also include David Wilhelm, an OU alum, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and partner with Blumer in New Harvest, have been working with Spectrum Capital Energy for roughly a year.

Blumer added he has been in attendance at almost all of the previous meetings with OU officials. 

“We know that (OU is) looking at revisiting all sorts of things they do with energy,” he said. “They know they can’t solve all of their issues at once. We’re talking to them, giving feedback and input, but really, there is nothing other than informal talks until there is something to respond to.”

OU is revisiting the plan for the Lausche Heating Plant, Blumer said. The current plan is to replace the current coal-burning plant with a natural gas powered, “tri-generational” plant that provides heating, cooling and electricity.

Lalley didn't comment specifically on whether OU is seriously considering changing its plans with Lausche and/or giving Turning Point another chance.

The Lausche plan has drawn criticism from some OU students and faculty alike, who say OU’s energy future should be focused on renewables, not fossil fuels. OU officials have left open the possibility of the plant running on renewables, such as biogas.

Last September, when the plan went widely public, Caitlyn McDaniel, president of the Sierra Student Coalition and Student Senate’s incoming vice-president, said: “I’m going to fight this (fossil fuel plant) until it’s pretty much on the line, and even after that I’m not going to like it.”

At that time, it looked like OU officials weren’t interested in drawing power from the Turning Point solar project.

“I can say that they (OU) are interested and they are looking at it holistically,” Blumer said. “They’re taking a wide look at the whole picture, … before they had one particular thing (Lausche) they were pursuing, and everything else fell like dominoes from that.”

There is one offer on the table for the proposed Turning Point plant to provide power to, but Blumer would not provide specifics.

Backers of Turning Point have been attempting to negotiate a deal with OU since last summer.

“I can say they seem serious, and the meetings I’ve been to have been very positive,” Blumer said. “But not in any specific ‘we’re going to work with you or anyone else.’ ”

Because the university has not officially opened up the Request for Proposals, the discussions are very preliminary, he said.

“All we can do is hope that when the time is right, that our thoughts and suggestions are well integrated in things and we can play a significant role,” Blumer said. “That’s what Patty is really trying to do, bring together a bunch of different things to answer what their vision becomes.”


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