Ohio Needs Forward-Thinking Clean Energy Policy

It’s time we have a serious conversation in Ohio about a forward-looking clean energy policy that can, once and for all, propel the state’s energy economy into the 21st century and make up for lost time in the fight against our changing climate.

Rows of solar panels, with green trees in the background

Courtney Celley/USFWS

Things could not be clearer. Ohio must immediately repeal House Bill 6, the abysmal energy law that sits at the center of last week’s arrest of the Ohio Speaker of the House—and a cadre of insiders and lobbyists—amidst federal bribery and racketeering charges. But repealing the “worst energy law of the century” is nowhere near sufficient. It’s time we have a serious conversation in Ohio about a forward-looking clean energy policy that can, once and for all, propel the state’s energy economy into the 21st century and make up for lost time in the fight against our changing climate.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear that we need to do everything we can over the next decade to clean up our electric grid. There are many ways that fossil fuel interests can try, and are trying, to convince us that this problem can wait, but the science is clear. Waiting is not an option. The 2020’s will be the most critical decade for making progress, and Ohio just stumbled out of the starting blocks.

We are not on pace to meet these critical goals and as a result, Ohio is missing out on billions of dollars of investment, thousands of jobs in the renewable energy industry, and massive amounts of affordable, clean, carbon free electric power. We need to get serious about investing in wind, solar, energy storage, and energy efficiency.

We Need Governor DeWine to Lead on the Clean Energy Transition

Governor DeWine has shown strong leadership in the last few months with his bold, nation-leading reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic and centering Ohio’s response on science and public health. And we know the communities that are being harmed the most by the virus are also disproportionately harmed by the state’s efforts to prop up dirty power. Pollution from dirty energy inflicts more harm on communities of color and low-income communities.

There is a better way, and our Governor must continue to be bold and lead us there now.

But Governor DeWine did not seize the leadership moment last week. Instead, he reacted to the alleged criminal activity with a series of confusing and distorted statements that vaguely referenced the need for clean energy. In back to back press conferences, the Governor and Lt. Governor both changed their opinion on whether HB6 should now be repealed, first defending HB6 and later joining the chorus of those calling for its repeal.

Of note, Lt. Governor Husted said that “Ohio needs zero carbon energy to meet our targeted goals for carbon reduction.” These statements are particularly noteworthy as Ohio does not currently have any targeted goals for carbon reduction.

Ironically, the only Ohio policies that have reduced carbon from Ohio’s power generation in any definable way were the renewable portfolio and energy efficiency resource standards, which Governor DeWine eliminated when he signed HB 6 into law in July 2019.

It’s time for clear vision and bold leadership on clean energy and climate that is based in science, not politics, and that reflects the will of Ohioans, not corporate interests.

Repeal House Bill 6

House Bill 6 was always the wrong direction for our state—a bad deal from the start. It bailed out an aging and uncompetitive nuclear fleet on the backs of electricity consumers, funneled money to two of the oldest coal plants in the country (including one over the border in Indiana), and repealed our state’s successful renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. But as if HB 6’s impact on Ohioans weren’t bad enough, last week it was revealed that lawmakers and wealthy corporate interests may have broken the law to get it done—a cynical gamble with Ohio’s energy future to the tune of $62M in bribes.

The fight must go on.

The first step forward must be to repeal House Bill 6 entirely and disrupt the balance of power that has tipped disproportionately toward Ohio’s utilities and special interests. For more than a decade, this state has hemmed and hawed over its energy policy, debating coal and nuclear bailouts in case after case before the Public Utilities Commission and in various bills before the Ohio legislature. The constant threat of regressive policy has created a culture of uncertainty around renewable energy and energy efficiency that sends a message to sustainability-minded investors that Ohio is a risky place to do business.

It’s time to give consumers their money back and start a real conversation about an energy policy that’s best for Ohio’s future and brings new jobs to our state.

The Way Forward on Truly Carbon-Free, Renewable Power

Energy policy can be extremely complicated, but it is clear that adding renewable energy to Ohio’s generation mix and reducing the amount of energy we waste every year through efficiency are foundational to eliminating pollution from the power sector while delivering low-cost power to our state’s electricity customers.

Ohio currently has roughly 710MWs of large-scale wind projects in operation and 500MWs of utility scale solar have commenced construction just this year. While Ohio’s renewable energy economy boasts nearly 10,000 jobs with significant growth potential, and with these projects representing the largest tax revenue source in the counties that host them, Ohio remains woefully behind the region—and the country—in clean energy generation.

The solution is clear and almost too obvious. The RPS is the most cost-effective, market-based means to drive new renewable additions in the state of Ohio and should be reinstated and expanded significantly, with arbitrary barriers to siting these projects removed.

Energy efficiency resource standards are a similarly effective tool for creating jobs, reducing pollution and saving customers money on their electric bills. Ohio has over 80,000 energy efficiency jobs, another sector of our economy with significant growth potential. Electricity customers in this state had saved over $5 billion in electricity costs through the efficiency standard before it was eliminated and had achieved a significant amount of carbon reductions by reducing the need for fossil fuels. Eliminating our energy efficiency standard was a drastic mistake that must be immediately remedied.

According to an NRDC review of the impacts of HB6, carbon emissions are expected to be 25 percent higher due to the elimination of these two important clean energy policies. This is true despite what the DeWine administration has said about the need to preserve “carbon-free power” in Ohio (which, perplexingly, appears to only refer to FirstEnergy’s nuclear plants, but not to the vast potential for truly carbon-free wind and solar power in the state). This uptick in emissions will be a direct effect of a lack of an energy efficiency strategy to keep electricity demand in check, and the removal of any coherent policy to foster the growth of renewable energy. If the Governor and Lt. Governor are serious about the need to reduce carbon emissions as they stated last week, these policies must be reinstated and expanded.

We Must Take Swift, Decisive Action

Other states around the Midwest are surging forward. The clean energy trend in our region is particularly important at this time of growing calls for leaders to take decisive action to mitigate climate change. Other states are now looking at energy policy from a much more ambitious, broader perspective (for example, see the proliferation of 100% clean power commitments that have dominated the energy space over the last year). Meanwhile, Ohio is caught up in a scandal, and progress is stalled.

We cannot stop at simply reinstating these standards through a HB6 repeal. We must expand on them and take decisive action on the largest sources of pollution in our state economy, including transportation, buildings, and industry. Added to this must be a discussion of policies that will upend the entrenched and disproportionate power that corporate interests have wielded for far too long at the Ohio statehouse. It’s time to get this regressive, special interest influence out of the decision-making process, stop holding back progress and make Ohio a place that people are proud to call home.

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