What makes this environmentalist skeptical? When a post-election commentator employed by a big-business-loving “libertarian” think tank interprets the 2010 Ohio election results as a mandate for his employer’s dirty energy agenda. The relevant op-ed appeared in today’s Cincinnati Enquirer. The commentator, Paul Chesser of Chicago’s own Heartland Institute, argues – using no information beyond a lazy read of Ohio’s energy law – that Ohio voters “repudiated the campaign to demonize "Big Oil" and the coal industry” and that Ohio’s energy law should thus be repealed. Leaving aside that there’s no such thing as a mandate for particular issues in general elections – commentators and politicians basically try to convince others that the will of the voters align with their pet issues – Chesser completely ignores that Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards are saving customer’s money, creating jobs, and cutting pollution right now.
Energy efficiency – getting the same hot showers and cold beers using better practices or technology – is the cheapest and cleanest source of energy available. It generally costs much less to save energy than it does to build something new or even operate existing power plants. The CFLs Chesser demonizes have a 200% return on investment, paying back their additional cost in 6 months or less; also, even if customers were to intentionally break them, they would still release less mercury than a coal plant that powers an old incandescent. The efficiency programs operated by Ohio utilities in 2009-2011 will lower the energy bills of Ohio’s consumers and businesses by an estimated $386 million over the technologies’ lifetime.
The renewable energy standard Chesser refers to is already creating good jobs for Ohioans. American Electric Power-Ohio last year inked a 20-year agreement with Wyandot Solar to purchase energy from a large solar farm near Upper Sandusky, Ohio, using solar panels supplied by Ohio’s own First Solar. More spectacularly, this October, AEP signed an agreement to buy power from a 49.9 MW solar farm in southeast Ohio, creating 300 permanent jobs and 300 temporary construction jobs. Other Ohio utilities are taking similar steps.
Ohio’s has the right policies to nudge it toward a clean energy future based on efficient use of electricity and advanced manufacturing of renewable energy systems. Chesser tries to make this a partisan issue, but he ignores that these policies were passed unanimously by Ohio’s Republican-controlled Senate, and that other states in the region are moving along the same path. Illinois’ utility reform legislation, which included similar policies, was also passed unanimously. Indiana’s Republican Governor, Mitch Daniels, has also strongly supported energy efficiency; his Utility Regulatory Commission last year implemented an energy efficiency standard as stringent as Ohio’s.
Chesser wants Ohio to keep producing energy the same way, and using it with the same waste it has for decades. In a global economy, that is a recipe for stagnation, not growth. Ohio would do better listening to rare bipartisan agreement in the legislature, and support from the business community: how often do we get that sort of thing these days?