HP Insider: EV Infrastructure, Natural Gas, and Building Grants
July 20, 2020
In response to the continuing COVID-19 crisis, we have compiled an updated list of resources that may be helpful for businesses and employees as we continue navigating our present reality. Given the pace of change, this list is not exhaustive, but we will attempt to keep it as current as possible. 
PUCO Hosts Third Natural Gas Access Forum
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) recently held the third Natural Gas Access Forum, detailing options available to local jurisdictions to build energy infrastructure in their areas. While some parts of the state have benefited from natural gas production and investment in energy infrastructure, other areas are in “energy deserts” due to a lack of necessary infrastructure to deliver it.

Lack of access to affordable natural gas due to infrastructure constraints can lead to slower economic growth, so officials across Ohio are motivated to find solutions to fund additional projects. To that end, Sam Randazzo, Chairman of the PUCO, commented on flexibility at both the state and local level to address funding concerns. For instance, local jurisdictions can leverage low-cost capital by issuing bonds or utilizing programs like the Ohio Market Access Program through the Ohio Treasurer; interest rates for the program have been as low as 0.45% and historically have rarely gone above 2%.

In addition to funding, the forum also explored the authority local jurisdictions have to partner with third-party organizations to develop and maintain utilities in their area. These arrangements benefit from a quick turnaround time from inception to implementation, flexibility in timing of capital expenditures, local control, and the ability to address unforeseen challenges or opportunities. While this may require developing local knowledge for informed oversight, it’s a model that has been utilized widely in Ohio for water and sewer and in other states to provide natural gas service.

  Communities lacking necessary energy infrastructure to meet long-term growth already have some options to address their problems. More authority and additional tools to help local officials encourage energy project development would go a long way to help provide utilities services to constituents, businesses and others in nearby areas.
Ohio to Advance Statewide EV-Charging Stations
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has released a study outlining a statewide strategy to build the electrical vehicle (EV) infrastructure (i.e. charging stations) Ohio will need in the coming decades as EVs become increasingly common. The study calls for more collaboration between state-level agencies, and outlines various EV goals, including intercity commuting, travel to top-tier attractions and locations and increasing agency knowledge on installation and maintenance of electric charging stations.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is already working to help fund publicly accessible level 2 charging stations across the state through $3.5 million in grants. Additionally, PUCO is hosting an upcoming virtual stakeholder meeting to examine what things are required from utilities to ensure their infrastructure will be ready to meet the needs of an EV future.

  Ohio is well positioned for the automotive future. Whether it’s DriveOhio, Columbus Smart City initiative, or autonomous vehicle testing and development, the time to prepare for the steady shift to electric vehicles is now as infrastructure today will ensure demand tomorrow.
New Grants for More Spec Building & Sites
After some pre-rollout discussions in early March, JobsOhio has officially launched it’s much anticipated $250 million Ohio Site Inventory Program (OSIP). The goal of OSIP is to provide targeted funding to have more shovel-ready sites and buildings in its statewide portfolio. JobsOhio wants “more products” available when it talks with prospective companies or site selectors. This expanded portfolio will include office, R&D, and manufacturing buildings as well as suitable sites in rural, suburban and urban communities around the state. Grant funds will be directed primarily to help cover costs associated with demolition, site preparation, remediation, and infrastructure improvements. Attractive financing will be available to help support new construction, and projects will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The maximum grant amount is $2 million, or up to $5 million when combined with an OSIP loan. JobsOhio support will not exceed 50% of the total project costs.

   Not since the 2006 launch of the Job Ready Site (JRS) program has Ohio truly invested in broadly increasing its inventory of shovel-ready sites. To seriously compete for major job creating projects, states need to make strategic investments to ensure sites are positioned to seamlessly accommodate the needs of growing businesses.

FY2020 Budget Closes Balanced With Billion Dollar Shortfall
Ohio’s FY2020 closed at the end of June, and even amidst a revenue shortfall of $1.1 billion, the state reached a balanced budget. Auto sales tax, the commercial activity tax (CAT), and federal grants helped net positive revenue for the month even as personal income tax and non-auto sales tax revenues fell short of projections. Ohio’s non-farm payroll numbers increased from April to May which is good news for unemployed Ohioans. However, the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) expects revenues to continue falling heading into FY2021 as consumers are worried about the resurgence of coronavirus cases. Furthermore, major U.S. banks are warning of forthcoming loan defaults as the federal government’s assistance subsides, so the potential for additional economic damage remains very real and will undoubtedly affect Ohio’s next operating budget.
ICYMI: Extra Insights
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Hicks Partners, LLC is a multidisciplinary business consulting firm providing public relations, government affairs and business development services in Columbus, Ohio and Washington, D.C. We deliver powerful results for clients seeking to enhance their image, impact policy decisions and grow their bottom line.
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