A wind turbine and solar panels show advanced energy in action at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, where Ohio’s Energy Future Tour kicked off. FirstEnergy Stadium is in the background. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
According to a variety of industry and community leaders, Ohio still has a bright future ahead of it for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
That is the message of Ohio’s Energy Future Tour, which kicked off its first public forum earlier this week with a bright outlook for 2015 and beyond.
Companies have already invested millions of dollars and provided thousands of new jobs for the state, and Ohio has the potential to be a leader in multiple technologies, reported speakers at the December 15 program at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland.
Nonetheless, political setbacks in 2014 have placed Ohio at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis other states, speakers said, and uncertainty about energy policies could further limit the state’s prospects.
This chart from the redacted version of testimony submitted on behalf of the Sierra Club projects that customers would incur a cumulative loss (green line) for at least 10 years under Duke Energy’s proposed power purchase agreement plan.
As Ohio utilities seek to require the public to help pay for aging power plants, they are also fighting to keep data that could be used to evaluate those plans under wraps.
FirstEnergy, Duke Energy and American Electric Power have asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to guarantee sales for particular affiliated plants with plans critics characterize as “bailouts.”
At the same time, the utilities are citing confidentiality claims to prevent public disclosure of large amounts of cost data and projections related to the plans.
Nonetheless, redacted materials filed by the Sierra Club in the Duke Energy case show the utility’s plan would have a net cost to consumers, even after 10 years.
The testimony directly contradicts Duke Energy’s own claim that customers would benefit from its proposed plan in the long run.
Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner visits the statehouse on Dec. 2. (AP Photo / Seth Perlman)
Following recent GOP election gains, efficiency advocates are taking a glass-half-full approach, emphasizing bipartisan support for efficiency mandates and missions, including among Republicans like Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner.
That was the message of the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance in a teleconference on Wednesday analyzing the effect of the November elections for governor and state legislature in 13 states where Republicans were generally victorious.
But there is also uncertainty ahead in the energy efficiency landscape, namely in three states – all with Republican governors and legislative majorities – where rollbacks of energy efficiency mandates have occurred.
Gov. John Kasich was re-elected in Ohio, and Gov. Mike Pence is still in office in Indiana, up for re-election in 2016. In those states, majority Republican legislatures this year passed bills freezing and ending, respectively, the states’ mandates for increased energy efficiency.
A drilling rig at a Marcellus Shale site in Pennsylvania. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
The Ohio Senate began hearings this week on a bill that could let oil and gas companies skirt current laws dealing with disclosure of chemical hazards to local communities and water withdrawals from the Lake Erie watershed.
The Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 490 in November, and the Ohio Senate could vote on the bill as early as next week. If passed in its current form, the bill could face challenges under federal law.
Community right-to-know issues
HB 490 would make the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) the main storehouse for oil and gas company filings about the hazards of chemicals used in their operations.
Currently, those companies and many other industrial operations are supposed to provide the information to the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC), as well as local emergency planning committees and fire departments. The requirement stems from the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Congress passed that law in 1986 in the aftermath of the Bhopal factory disaster that killed thousands of people in India.
Natural gas operations in Broadview Heights, Ohio, take place next door to homes. (Photo courtesy of Tish O’Dell)
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is siding with two oil and gas companies in a court case challenging a Cleveland suburb’s ban on oil and gas drilling within city limits.
The November 12 motion is the latest step in a series of cases where different branches and levels of Ohio government have faced off against each other. At issue is the extent to which each can limit how and where drilling and related activities take place.
The municipality involved in the case, Broadview Heights, is among a handful of Ohio cities that oppose additional oil and gas activities within their boundaries. Earlier this month, Athens became the latest Ohio city to ban new drilling within city limits.
ODNR and the gas companies claim local governments have no authority to limit any activities relating to oil and gas. Cities say the statute on which their opponents rely conflicts with the Ohio Constitution.
FirstEnergy wants to guarantee revenue for its Sammis power plant near Stratton, Ohio. (Photo ©Sierra Club/Colin Scianamblo, used with permission)
Murray Energy Corporation wants Ohio energy regulators to approve a plan that benefits FirstEnergy’s unregulated generation affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions.
The comments filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) last week claim that many jobs depend on keeping FirstEnergy’s Sammis coal plant in operation. The plant “typically burns between 6 million and 7 million tons of coal per year,” according to Murray Energy spokesperson Gary Broadbent.
The coal company’s comments join a flurry of other support that includes dozens of form letters signed by employees of FirstEnergy’s plants, along with letters from other suppliers and various local governments that talk about the importance of protecting jobs.
Clean-energy advocates question claims in the comments and say they do not justify subsidizing unregulated power plants that can’t compete effectively in Ohio’s deregulated generation market.
(Photo by jdickert via Creative Commons)
Although all Ohio ratepayers benefit from energy-efficient home weatherization programs for low-income families, future benefits could suffer from recent changes to state law, says a new report.
Investments in those programs have been producing $2.51 in savings and other benefits for every $1 they cost, reports the study from Policy Matters Ohio.
Yet while Ohio’s energy efficiency standard had been increasing private spending on the programs, changes under Senate Bill 310 threaten to severely limit those investments, the study says.
The law, which became effective this fall, freezes for two years any increases in the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy targets, while also weakening the standards. Meanwhile, a study committee is considering the future of the standards after the two-year freeze.
Some state legislators and utilities have said they want to eliminate any increases in the energy efficiency standard altogether.
Voters in Youngstown, Ohio rejected an anti-fracking ballot measure for the fourth time on Tuesday, while similar measures also failed in two other communities.
The proposed community bill of rights in Youngstown, part of an ongoing effort by local activists to limit drilling activity in the state, was supported by only 42 percent of voters — meaning it fell by a wider margin than the most recent attempt in May. Backers at that time pledged to continue trying until the ordinance passed.
Similar measures were also rejected by voters in Kent and Gates Mills. Voters in Gates Mills did, however, vote in favor of authorizing electric and natural gas aggregation, along with several other Ohio communities.
Meanwhile, voters in Athens, Ohio approved a community bill of rights measure by a wide margin, with 78 percent support.
The measures were among eight nationwide dealing with the issue.
(Photo by Murduck Rubbaduckle via Creative Commons)
Upcoming meetings of Ohio’s Energy Mandates Study Committee will be open to the public, but the extent to which the public will have a voice in the proceedings remains to be seen.
The committee was established by Senate Bill 310, which temporarily freezes and substantially modifies the state’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. It is tasked with studying the results of those laws and making recommendations for future energy policy.
Various reports document economic benefits from the standards and show their popularity with Ohioans. Nonetheless, critics note that the Ohio legislature disregarded much of that evidence when it passed SB 310 earlier this year.
While the committee is required to look at both the costs and benefits of the standards, nine of the 12 committee members voted for SB 310, which has already rolled back some of the laws’ provisions. That and other factors raise concerns among advocates that the process is weighted to achieve an outcome favorable to the state’s fossil-fuel interests.
(click to enlarge)
Minnesota led Midwest states in energy efficiency in a recent study while two of its western Dakota neighbors scored among the worst in the country.
The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard rankings — which includes the District of Columbia — shows four other Midwest states in the top 20 in its State Energy Efficiency Scorecard: Minnesota (10), Illinois (11th), Michigan (12) Iowa (14) and Wisconsin (17).
The ACEEE lauded Wisconsin for being among the top four states for improving its energy efficiency environment. The rest of the region had a much more mixed scorecard, with both Ohio (25) and Indiana (40) falling substantially in the rankings due to legislative decisions that backtracked on energy efficiency standards.