Progress Despite Politics: Ohio's Energy Future Tour Launches in Cleveland

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Photo: Mr.TinDC on Flickr, under Creative Commons licensing.

Ohio’s Energy Future Tour, a statewide series of forums for Ohioans to discuss the positive economic and health impact of clean energy in their lives and communities, kicked off Monday at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Science Center. The tour is being planned and implemented by a broad, bipartisan coalition of businesses, local governments, environmental advocates (including NRDC) and trade associations—a coalition that reflects the scope of interest in these issues across the state.

Over 150 people came out to voice their vision for clean energy in the Buckeye State.

Clean Energy in Ohio is a Win-Win, Bringing Jobs and Health Benefits

“We’re thrilled to launch here in Cleveland, where clean energy companies—especially in the wind sector—are reviving the local manufacturing sector, helping to power thousands of homes, and demonstrating the value of investing in renewables,” said clean energy expert and former Chair of the Public Utilities Commission Tom Chema, who moderated a group of panels featuring local business leaders, health officials and financial experts.

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Photo: Carl Wykoff on Flickrunder Creative Commons licensing.

Dennis Bollinger, who coordinates North American projects for Energy Developments, Inc., stressed that “Ohio could be a leader in renewable energy.” Laura Nicholson of Echogen Power System agreed, discussing her belief that the narrative of jobs leaving the region could be turned around.

Solar energy “is very viable. It works in Ohio,” said Alan Frasz of Dovetail Solar and Wind in Athens, Ohio.

Panelists also shared their personal and professional experience with how clean energy has helped protect children’s health in Cleveland. 

Alexis Abramson of Case Western Reserve stressed that a healthy economy relies on energy—and innovation is key. Energy is “a public health issue,” agreed Aparna Bole, a pediatrician and Sustainability Manager for University Hospitals in Cleveland. Bole noted that rates for asthma and other diseases are higher in areas—like Ohio—with power plants that produce energy primarily from coal. As a result, Bole said, University Hospitals and other area hospitals now see clean, sustainable energy as “part of our public health mission.

The environmental benefits of clean energy were also showcased, including Ohio Environmental Council’s powerful video, “Harnessing the Wind”, which chronicles how wind energy is transforming a small Ohio community in Van Wert.

Ohio’s Policies are Moving the State Backward

The tour comes at an important time for Ohio, as the state begins to roll up its sleeves to draft a plan for meeting U.S. EPA’s rules to cut harmful carbon pollution from power plants. Ohio will also be determining in the coming months how it intends to proceed with energy efficiency and renewables in the state.

The future of clean energy was thrown in the balance last Spring when the state legislature passed two separate bills that throw a wrench in the works of Ohio’s progress in getting more clean energy investment in the state. The first, S.B. 310, freezes for two years Ohio’s wildly successful efficiency and renewables standards, while a legislative study committee reviews their “costs.” These standards have already yielded over $1 billion in energy bill savings for Ohioans and supported a fast-growing economy, all while reducing carbon pollution. The second, H.B. 483, triples the property line setbacks for new commercial-scale wind turbines, making it much harder to site any new large-scale commercial wind projects in the state.

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Ohio business leaders, academics, advocates and public officials gathered Monday to discuss their vision for Ohio's clean energy future. Photo: NRDC

Many of the tour panelists, who represented a wide spectrum of local organizations—including businesses, hospitals, trade associations, and universities—made clear the chilling effect that these policies will have on economic growth and the detrimental health impacts of rolling back clean energy in Ohio.

While praising Ohio’s potential, panelists expressed frustration with the recent actions of lawmakers. “The political climate has been very discouraging,” said Frasz. “We’re really missing the boat right now.”

But panelists stressed that while Ohio’s policies are moving backward, the market for clean energy continues to surge forward.

For instance, costs for solar energy have come down significantly in recent years. “That’s making solar much more viable in spite of any roadblocks the statehouse has thrown in front of us,” Frasz said.

“Our culture took a segue with SB 310 that ultimately is an effort to throw sand in the gears of time,” added Mike Shaut of Carbon Vision, a Cleveland-area company works on solar and other renewable energy projects. “The fact is there is a forward momentum” toward clean energy and away from coal and other fossil fuels. Much of that movement is fueled by public awareness of the environmental costs of fossil fuel generation, Shaut added.

What’s Next? 

We look forward to continuing the tour across Ohio to showcase the unique regional strengths and opportunities of a clean energy economy across the state.

As panelist Lorry Wagner of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) made clear at Monday’s forum: “We have a choice. We can be 20 years from now where we have growth—and we know it can happen…” Or, he indicated, we could be in a holding pattern, stuck in the same place we are today.

Simply put, clean energy is the Buckeye State’s future, a way to break that holding pattern. This tour allows Ohioans to explain why that matters to them and to make their voices heard by the study committee, Governor Kasich, and their own local representatives.

The next stop on the tour is Columbus, with details to be released soon. Each forum is free and open to the public.

We hope to see you soon!