Ohio’s clean energy law has come under attack by a lawmaker affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the group funded by fossil fuel companies, corporate interests and the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers — but local vets are taking a stand.
Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) is pushing a bill that would weaken Ohio’s renewable energy standard — a law that requires a certain amount of the state’s energy portfolio be derived from renewable sources. The bill, substitute S.B. 58, would limit how much utilities can spend on energy-efficiency programs while eliminating the requirements for in-state renewable energy, meaning fewer new clean energy projects would be built in the state. In February, Sen. Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander) introduced another measure which would repeal the renewable energy requirement entirely.
Seitz made headlines in March when he said the state’s renewable energy standard reminds him of “Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan.” Both Seitz and Jordan are members of ALEC and Seitz is on the board of directors. In 2013, ALEC made it a priority to repeal clean energy laws throughout the country, and failed on all accounts.
Despite failing in its previous effort to repeal any state renewable energy standards, ALEC convened for its 40th annual meeting in late July and leaked documents show the organization has no intention of backing down from its attacks on popular clean energy laws.
But in Ohio, a group of 2,000 veterans, military family members and supporters is pushing back against Seitz’s effort and other bills aimed at weakening Ohio’s renewable energy standard. Zach Roberts, a National Guard veteran and the Ohio director of Operation Free, a national campaign that gathers veterans and national security experts to advocate for clean energy policies, told Climate Progress that S.B. 58 would, “radically change the state’s clean energy standard,” and it ultimately “weakens Ohio’s energy security.”
Ohio’s energy standard, which passed both the House and Senate by a wide margin and was signed into law by Gov. Ted Strickland in 2008, requires utilities to provide 25 percent of their electricity supply from alternative energy resources by 2025. At least 12.5 percent of the electricity must be generated from renewable energy sources, including wind, hydro, biomass and at least 0.5 percent from solar energy. The standard also forces utilities to decrease customers’ energy use by 22 percent by 2025 through energy-efficiency practices.
Seitz’s bill would keep in place the 25 percent standard, but utilities can exempt themselves from the energy-efficiency requirements. The bill also looks to repeal the mandate that says 50 percent of the renewable energy produced under the standard must come from within Ohio’s borders. Instead, utility companies would have the option of purchasing renewable energy credits within the Regional Transmission Organizations. This means a utility providing electricity to customers in Ohio, such as FirstEnergy Corp. or Duke Energy Retail, could purchase wind credits from a wind farm in Pennsylvania in the PJM Interconnection energy market without having to dispatch the electricity to Ohioans.
Roberts said if the electricity does not get delivered to the state then the bill would “completely defeat the purpose of having a renewable energy standard.”
Roberts said, for example, if a winter storm occurred in Ohio and knocked the coal and natural gas plants on the eastern side of the state offline, a utility company would need to call on another energy source to supply the electricity. With the lack of wind and solar energy within the state the utility would not have the source of electricity to release. As a veteran of the National Guard, he knows first-hand that it becomes a problematic scenario in the event when not only customers but hospitals and military bases are left without power for a long period of time.
“It’s pretty cut and dry. You either diversify your energy portfolio to ensure the energy brought into the civilian grid in the event there is a situation or you don’t. And when you don’t you are gambling with the energy security,” said Roberts.
The energy standard is also creating a robust energy-efficiency and renewable energy industry. Since 2008, wind and solar companies have created 8,000 new jobs and efficiency programs have netted rate payers $1 billion in savings, which is three dollars saved for every dollar invested.
According to the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, more than 1,000 renewable energy projects have also been built in Ohio to meet the in-state standard.
Furthermore, a recent study on the state’s law concluded that “Ohioans are already benefiting from renewable resource additions through downward pressure on wholesale market prices and reduced emissions.” In other words, the cost of wholesale power in Ohio is reduced as a result of the standard, while the amount of carbon dioxide emissions has decreased, meaning cleaner air for Ohioans.
Roberts said, “The renewable energy facilities that we do have on the grid are helping suppress wholesale electricity costs. The more renewable energy that we continue to deploy — whether it is solar, hydro, or wind — the more we will continue to see that price drop.”
“In an age where our civilian grid is becoming weaker and we have threats that happen not only on the international and national stage, it is in Ohio’s best interest to make sure we have as many types of energy available are our disposal in order to be as secure as possible,” Roberts explained. “Doing anything short of that is failing the state.”