Despite the rapid pace of renewable energy innovation around the globe, Ohio’s energy future dimmed a little this week when a committee created by the state legislature recommended a retreat from progressive policies that made Ohio a green energy leader.
The action proposed by the Ohio Energy Mandates Study Committee will likely send a jolt through the clean power industry nationally because, prior to 2014 (when state lawmakers temporarily “froze” the statewide renewable energy and efficiency standards and set up the committee), the Buckeye State was a recognized leader in renewable energy technology and innovation.
Adopted in 2008, the Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard requires that 25 percent of all kilowatt hours produced by investor owned electric companies must be generated from alternative energy sources by 2025. Of that 25 percent, half must come from renewable energy. The 2008 law further required utilities to implement energy efficiency programs to reduce waste and consumption, especially at peak demand periods.
Ohio’s Progress with Standards
To ensure that our local communities benefited from the mandates, there was a requirement to purchase a portion of the renewable power from Ohio sources. Benchmarks were also provided to ensure compliance by the deadline of 2025.
Ohio energy producers accomplished a lot in five years. We became a top manufacturer of wind turbines and attracted investment from Honeywell, Johnson Controls, and other technology firms that pushed the envelope toward more sophisticated batteries, cogenerators, and other innovations.
As Lynn Scarlett, the Conservancy’s managing director for public policy, pointed out in this space last month, research by the Pew Charitable Trusts in January showed that Ohio’s renewable energy standards attracted $1.3 billion in private clean energy investment during the first five years, with almost three times that predicted over the next decade.
Policies for Innovation
Instead of riding that wave, however, the Ohio legislature is poised to hit the brakes. The committee has recommended an indefinite freeze on Ohio’s statewide renewable energy and efficiency standards. The committee’s recommendation is unfortunate, because The Nature Conservancy sees an opportunity to find common ground.
We’ve come a long way with renewables. Some, including solar and wind power, already are considered much more reliable and cost effective than they were even a decade ago. Policies like the renewable energy standards are necessary to fuel further innovation, which will in the long run drive down costs for all energy.
And should we consider more than costs? An energy mix that increases our use of cleaner energy is healthier for all of us, as University of Chicago economics professor Michael Greenstone recently pointed out in a column in the New York Times.
Greenstone notes that a child born in Steubenville, Ohio, today has a life expectancy that is five years longer than a child born in the same town in 1970. Back then, Greenstone said, Steubenville had air pollution similar to modern-day Beijing. Reduced air pollution in communities across the U.S. help prevent asthma attacks, heart attacks, lost work days, hospital admissions and premature deaths.
Take a Breath
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has spoken out against an indefinite freeze, calling it “unacceptable,” and saying he will work with the legislature toward a bill that supports “a diverse mix of reliable, low-cost energy sources while preserving the gains we have made in the state’s economy.” A great deal hinges on his success in this effort.
We must find a way to move forward, not back – forward toward policies that promote innovation and create a diverse, home-grown, clean energy economy. America’s energy landscape is changing dramatically and other states are more than happy to take the lead away from Ohio.
It’s possible that some who testified in support of the freeze are unfairly burdened by the 2008 standards. We should pay attention to the voices of those who expressed concerns during the committee hearings. But we should not abandon the standards altogether.
We must find a way forward for the benefit of everyone who has a stake in a modern energy future.
And who has a stake? Only anyone who breathes air.
Josh Knights is executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Ohio.