From Leader To Loser: How Ohio Became The First State To Rollback Clean Energy Progress, And How It’S Already Hurting Us
By Trish Demeter

Few stories are as exciting and frustrating as the story about Ohio’s Clean Energy Law. This story begins in 2008, when the bipartisan framers of Ohio’s Clean Energy Law very consciously set a course for a cleaner electric sector that used energy generation and management as an economic development tool.

The vision of Ohio Senate Bill 221 was to gradually grow the diversity of our energy mix, reduce energy waste and inefficiencies, clean up the air, and use Ohio companies and Ohio workers to get the job done. The policy to execute this vision was simple: establish minimum standards to prompt an increase in electric utilities’ use of renewable energy, require special preference for renewable energy projects built in Ohio, and expand energy efficiency programs.

The economic and environmental progress made since these standards were established could warm the coolest of hearts, particularly when considering that the clean energy industry has surged forward even in some of the hardest economic years in Ohio. If Ohio’s Clean Energy Law were to have a poster child in terms of what this policy intended to do for our state, the towns of Van Wert and Paulding in Northwest Ohio would be it.

Just a few years ago, these small towns were being left behind by the 21st century economy, and were hit especially hard by the recession. County offices were forced to go to four-day workweeks to save money, the local jail was outsourced to another county, and the city stopped funding its economic development office, which is supposed to bring jobs to the community.

Fast forward a few years, the community is now home to hundreds of wind turbines that are generating not only clean, renewable energy, but are also generating a host of economic benefits for local businesses, school districts, and farmers. This is the story of how large wind energy companies invested hundreds of millions in Ohio at a time when other industry sectors were closing down factories and laying off workers. See the moving video here.

If this video wasn’t enough to move you, consider these facts: Today, about 35,000 Ohioans are now employed in a clean energy industry of some kind, Ohio has seen enough wind energy come online to power 180,000 homes, we are still first in the nation for the number of companies in the wind energy supply chain, over 1,000 new renewable energy projects have been installed since 2009, and Ohioans have saved more than $4 billion dollars on their electric bills because of energy efficiency.

This policy aimed not only to spur economic development, but to achieve another important goal: clean up Ohio’s air. With roughly two-thirds of our electricity coming from coal-fired power plants, Ohio’s efficiency and renewable standards mean that we’re enjoying cleaner air now that over 9,000 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxide, 40,000 tons of lung-irritating sulfur dioxide, and 1,000 pounds of mercury are being prevented from entering the environment.

If there’s a clear antagonist in this story, the Ohio General Assembly and national fossil-fuel interests would be it.

State lawmakers first started talking about rolling back Ohio’s Clean Energy Law in 2012, when the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) circulated model legislation to repeal state clean energy standards. In fact, Ohio was just one of fifteen states that saw the introduction of clean energy standards repeal bills in 2013. But, Ohio would be the first – and so far the only – to actually move forward with a bill that dismantled clean energy progress.

After eighteen months of debate about the value and benefit of Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, the Ohio General Assembly passed Ohio Senate Bill 310, halting much of this great progress by instituting a two-year suspension or “freeze” of the annual goals for renewable energy and energy efficiency. This bill contained permanent law changes that deeply cut away at Ohio’s standards. For example, the bill repealed the “buy Ohio” provision in which half of the renewable energy goal must be met with energy generated by renewable projects within Ohio.

Within days of SB 310 passing, the Ohio Senate decided to kick the wind industry while it was down when it slipped an eleventh-hour amendment into the budget bill that dramatically changed the rules of where wind turbines can be built. These setbacks for wind turbines are even greater than what’s required for oil and gas wells! To highlight the severity of this change, consider this: Ohio’s first major wind farm has 152 wind turbines. If this new setback limit had been in place when this project was developed, only 12 of the 152 wind turbines would have been built.

It’s not difficult to conclude that the result of both of these actions hs chilled the clean energy marketplace in Ohio, and by default will make electric utilities more reliant on old, dirty coal plants. And, without access to energy efficiency rebates and incentives, customers may soon see increases in their electric bills.

But what does it matter that renewable energy get a fair shake in Ohio? Why should cutting energy waste be a priority when electricity is relatively cheap to come by? Because, this debate over Ohio’s clean energy future is as much about consumer liberty as it is about theenvironment and attracting clean energy businesses to Ohio.

As a consumer, the range of choices you have in meeting your energy needs – rooftop solar, geothermal, wind energy, energy efficiency – is growing. And as a conscientious consumer, akin to the local food movement, you are becoming more and more aware of where your electricity comes from and the social and environmental impacts your choices have.

As consumers become more informed and empowered, Ohio’s energy marketplace will become increasingly democratized, and we’ll begin to see more and more Van Werts and Pauldings pop up in Ohio. This trend will be tough for fossil-fuel interests and political ideologies to stop.

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Trish Demeter is the Managing Director of Energy & Clean Air Programs for the Ohio Environmental Council

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  • windtech2000

    And of course there is another factor to be considered when attempting to reduce emissions and that is the the $/unit avoided. Grid operator MISO has done the math and wind simply does not add up:

  • windtech2000

    “Today, about 35,000 Ohioans are now employed in a clean energy industry of some kind…we are still first in the nation for the number of companies in the wind energy supply chain…”

    Think about it: compared to Texas or Iowa or even Illinois or Indiana, Ohio has constructed only a trivial amount of wind plants.

    But the AWEA says Ohio has more wind-related manufacturing facilities than any other state.

    Logical conclusion? There is no linkage whatsoever between the construction of wind turbine and wind manufacturing jobs. If there was then Texas or Iowa would be first, not Ohio.

    The author has debunked his own premise.

  • windtech2000

    What happened to the TRUE environmentalists?

  • Think.

    Whether one supports or opposes renewable energy is beside the point. Ohio energy consumers should be furious that SB 310 and its predecessors were written, lobbied, and sold to GOP legislators by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
    As usual, Republican elected officials ignored widespread public outcry and passed a law created by ALEC profiteers.
    When will it ever end?

  • heartofitall

    How much did the Clean Energy Law cost the state? Just the 600 million? How much of the 8 billion deficit in 2010 was due to this law?
    If you want to talk about clean energy jobs, discuss fracking in eastern Ohio please. Zero groundwater contamination, lots of natural gas (cleanest burning fossil fuel).

  • windtech2000

    Senate Bill 310’s attempt to freeze Ohio’s renewable energy mandate has elicited the typical howls from Ohio’s green energy profiteers. They have been quick to paint the supporters of SB310 as slavish supporters of the much maligned Koch Brothers, FirstEnergy or other “dark fossil corporate profiteers.” But, as shown by Sierra’s willingness to take $26 million from gas driller Chesapeake Energy to fight coal, their policy positions can be very nimble indeed — for a price.

    But has their “corporate conspiracy radar” developed a massive wind turbine-sized blind spot?

    Consider:

    In 1998, Enron’s Ken Lay implored then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush to extend subsidies for wind energy. A quick scan of his letter reveals talking points that today could easily be mistaken for the Ohio Sierra Club: “Wind is the fastest growing new electrical generation technology in the world today and has rapidly decreased its production costs until it is close to being competitive with conventional generation technologies.”

    After Enron’s epic fail their wind business was scooped up by General Electric. GE’s power generation unit saw great profit opportunity in the growing alarm over global warming.

    Traditional power plants such as coal and nuclear last a very long time, 60 years or more. It is hard to sell new plants when they obsolesce so slowly. But if new carbon dioxide regulations could begin to force premature retirement of still-serviceable coal plants, GE could fill that generation void with new gas generation. Every megawatt of retired coal generation could then be replaced with new (GE) gas generation.

    That is a fine start but what if there were a way to sell 2 or 3 or 4 megawatts of new capacity to replace 1 MW of prematurely retired coal generation?

    Intermittent wind energy that is wholly reliant upon gas generators for grid integration was the key. But how to create a market share for expensive wind energy which typically arrives at times of low demand and low price?

    Enter state renewable energy mandates like Ohio’s SB221.

    GE’s business is generators. As a board member of the American Wind Energy Association they have been at the vanguard of promoting and protecting renewable energy mandates. Since wind energy is variable and intermittent in output due to the vagaries of weather, one cannot simply replace 1,000 MW of baseload coal generation with 1,000 MW of wind generation. Replacing such a coal plant with wind generation requires one to construct approximately 1,000 MW of gas-fired generation to balance and backup wind’s erratic output. For GE that is win-win. They get to sell 2 MW of new generation to replace 1 MW of perfectly serviceable coal generation being prematurely retired by EPA regulations.

    But even better for GE is the fact that wind turbines last 20 years — at best. Thus, during the 60-year life of a typical coal plant, not only do ratepayers need to pay for a new 1,000 MW (GE) gas generator, they are also compelled to buy 1,000 MW of GE wind turbines AND replace them at least two more times over 60 years.

    Thus, through the magic of EPA regulation, high level air support from willing accomplices like Sierra Club and furthered by renewable energy mandates like the one SB310 hopes to freeze — corporate giant GE has struck a largely tax free green bonanza.

    Our “corporate conspiracy” search does not end there. A quick review of the AWEA’s board of directors reveals an interesting cast of fossil fuel characters indeed.

    Iberdrola Renewables and E. On Renewables corporate parents are among the largest fossil and nuclear utilities in Europe. An aggressive opponent of SB310, Ohio wind operator Iberdrola also owns significant fossil fuel generation in the U.S. Wind works well for Iberdrola: in just one year its U.S. wind investments allowed it to strip mine $1 billion from the U.S. tax code and export it to Spain. Could it be that wind subsidies are actually back door fossil subsidies?

    There are many solid reasons for Ohioans to support freezing renewable energy mandates.

    SB221’s in-state renewable energy generation mandate violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

    Worse, Ohio’s wind resource is anemic relative to its Western peers. This means Ohio wind is roughly twice the price of Iowa’s or Minnesota’s.

    But worst of all for Ohio’s environment, the center/left Brookings Institute, deeply concerned about climate change, now reports that wind and solar energy mandates like SB221 are the most costly and least effective means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    Anyone can play “find the (Koch) bogeyman.”

    But the truth is that Ohio’s renewable energy mandates have largely benefited only one group: entrenched monopoly fossil utilities such as American Electric Power, Iberdrola and corporate behemoths such as GE.

    But what should we expect? It was their idea in the first place.

  • Red Rover

    Are you out of your mind? The $8 billion deficit was a made-up talking point from the Kasich administration, and well drilling in eastern Ohio is causing earthquakes for crying out loud. Zero groundwater contamination? Ask Pennsylvania, where some residents have flammable tap water. Or what about the fracking companies that sell their chemicals to unsuspecting local governments to use as a winter road treatment?

  • Red Rover

    Are you suggesting that coal plants don’t need turbines serviced or replaced over their life cycle?

  • heartofitall

    So windmills are free?
    One 3.0 earthquake able to barely be felt within a few miles that caused zero damage led to the shutting down of that fracking well, and Ohio has some of the strictest fracking regulations. The largest geothermal plant in the US is near San Fran, and causes 4.0 earthquakes all the time. Concerned about that?
    The US EPA has repeatedly said there has been zero cases of groundwater contamination, and the 11 people in “Gasland” in a town of 1500 were proven to be liars.
    Fracking chemicals are detergents, like dish soap, mixed with sand. Most companies list the chemicals on their website for all to see.

  • Red Rover

    Solar should have been mentioned in this article. It’s hard to find a solar business that will install on a power purchase agreement now because this law has caused the value of Ohio’s solar renewable energy credits to decline.

  • windtech2000

    Of course not.

  • Think.

    If only we could harness some of the hot-air coming from SB 310 supporters…

  • Red Rover

    I had a reply to this with a link in it, so I guess the mods didn’t approve. The short of it is that researchers have figured out how to identify if methane is from a gas well or already occurring in the water. In the cases of methane in the water in Texas and Pennsylvania, the contamination was proven to be caused by the wells. And yes, I would be concerned about a geothermal plant causing earthquakes too. We need to start making decisions about energy that are good for people and the environment, not corporations and profits.

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