There is a war on science and the environment in Ohio. Numerous recent pieces of legislation and decisions by state agencies make it clear—the GOP has put politics over science and the health of Ohio’s environment time and time again. One need only look to recent legislation to allow drilling in state parks, unlimited water withdrawals from Lake Erie, or new fracking regulation which prevent disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process and continue to allow disposal of fracking waste by deep underground injection.

Today we’ll explore one of several recent examples of the Kasich administration making decisions based more on politics than good science.

Third Frontier Rejects Funding for Long-Planned Lake Erie Wind Energy Project

For years, boosters of the Cleveland region’s economic advancement have envisioned the city as host to North America’s first offshore freshwater wind project. In 2009, Cuyahoga and Lorain Counties, the City of Cleveland, NorTech Energy Enterprises and the Cleveland Foundation established the nonprofit Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) to advance the project. After extensive study, the project has a stated potential to lower the cost of energy below $.10 per kWH, a huge improvement on wind’s currently uncompetitive prices.

Wind energy projects have enjoyed the ongoing support of the State of Ohio. Governor Strickland won passage of a renewable portfolio standard in SB 221, requiring 12.5% of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2025, vital to creating a market for wind energy. The Department of Natural Resources produced a turbine placement analysis, looking at bird habitat, fisheries, industry, lakebed geography, shipwrecks, navigable waterways and distance from shore. The Department of Development has also been a consistent champion of offshore wind energy projects in Lake Erie.

But that’s all changed. In April, Governor Kasich signed into law SB 289 which weakens the State’s renewable portfolio standard, diminishing the market for wind in Ohio. Then, on Wednesday, the State’s Third Frontier Commission, voted to reject LEEDCo’s application for funding, critical for its much larger application for an upcoming offshore wind energy grant application to the US Department of Energy. Without the state’s funding, the project’s future is uncertain.

How did this happen? Third Frontier relies on independent experts to evaluate applications and make recommendations before any funding decisions are made. In the case of LEEDCo, these advisers gave the project a thumbs-up, stating that the project would:

  • Establish Ohio as a cornerstone of the US wind industry;
  • Attract research faculty from across Ohio, focusing on lowering the cost of wind energy;
  • Leverage Ohio’s academic and industry strengths in advanced materials and sensing technologies

After hearing the recommendation for funding by the outside experts, members of the 9-person Third Frontier Commission—all appointed by the Governor, including 4 members of his administration—rejected the application, saying they feared it was “too speculative” and that wind energy costs too much. Recall above where we noted that the LEEDCo application, which was reviewed and endorsed by the Third Frontier’s outside technical experts, actually promises to lower the price of wind energy to as little as $.10 per kWH.

If the current cost of wind energy is too high, wouldn’t a collaboration between industry and four of the state’s premiere research universities that could lower that price be worthy of investment by a body charged with supporting entrepreneurship and innovation, especially as we seek to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and establish Ohio as a leader in advanced energy?

Not for the Kasich administration. In the face of the recommendation of outside experts that a project could establish Ohio’s leadership and lower the cost of wind energy, political appointees rejected their advice.

Opposition to wind and solar energy is a national trend among conservatives, part of an aggressive, coordinated strategy to defeat President Obama in November:

A network of ultra-conservative groups is ramping up an offensive on multiple fronts to turn the American public against wind farms and Barack Obama‘s energy agenda.

A number of rightwing organisations, including Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, are attacking Obama for his support for solar and wind power. The American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), which also has financial links to the Kochs, has drafted bills to overturn state laws promoting wind energy.

Kasich appointees are marching in lockstep with the GOP’s anti-wind energy talking points. But it’s not just Kasich appointees.

That’s just dumb!
– John Kasich on Lake Erie Wind Energy, in 2010

Happy to ignore the advice of scientists, Kasich himself apparently prefers making decisions based on casual conversations with “some people who fish up there in Lake Erie once a year”:

(courtesy: Ohio Capital Blog)
Clearly he was uninformed about ODNR’s work to identify turbine locations that would not impact commercial or sport fisheries, but Kasich has never been one to let facts get in his way.

This is not the only example of the Kasich administration seemingly taking a political stand against science and the environment. We’ll be back with more soon.

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