Renewable Interest

Columbus Dispatch - October 30, 2007
   

The governor and others talk a good game about alternative energy. Then they embrace Senate legislation that should be much stronger

Columbus Dispatch

Ted Strickland and other Democrats campaigned across the state last year touting the economic promise of renewable and advanced energy sources. An Ohio bleeding manufacturing jobs? Alternative energy sources would lead to new realms of employment. The governor pressed forward on this front in unveiling his plan for restructuring the state’s electricity industry (with a deadline looming for full and misguided deregulation in January 2009). He outlined a requirement that by 2025, 25 percent of the electricity in Ohio must be generated from the likes of clean coal, nuclear and fuel cells, and half of the standard met through renewables such as wind, solar and hydro power.

The governor has noted that other states have moved ahead more quickly. He has talked rightly and repeatedly about Ohio needing to play catch-up, making the kind of impression that would attract investors in advanced and renewable energy sources.

In that way, the governor deserves credit for proposing the goal. Unfortunately, his plan lacked such elements as benchmarks necessary to measure and achieve progress. Worse, the rewrite of his legislation by the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee (delivered last week) backs away further, suggesting that compliance won’t be enforced until 2025, denying the Public Utilities Commission even modest tools in rulemaking to achieve enforcement.

The committee’s decision to impose an arbitrary price cap of 3 percent on the implementation of the standard diminishes in another way the state’s profile as a place for advanced and renewable energy sources. As Janine Migden-Ostrander, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, explained to the committee on Monday, ”a utility could build an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle coal plant, hit the cap and then never have to provide any renewable energy.”

The governor and his advisers insist that the nearly two dozen states with precise interim goals, plus enforcement mechanisms, fail to account for the uncertainty in the market. The Strickland team cites New Jersey having second thoughts (due to the steep expense) about its goal of tapping solar power for 2 percent of its electricity. Both contentions largely dodge the point. Everyone gets the uncertainty. The purpose of regular benchmarks and enforcement is to signal serious intent, an Ohio as eager as other states to move forward. The mistake New Jersey made was focusing so narrowly on solar.

On Friday, Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland-based think tank, issued a report revealing the puny stake the state has made in its Advanced Energy Fund, a pool of money designed to encourage investment in clean energy projects. Again, other states do better. They grasp more firmly the potential to leverage private investment dollars.

An Ohio determined to achieve the goal set by Ted Strickland, to be a national leader in clean energy technologies, must have a robust Advanced Energy Fund. It must have clear benchmarks and enforcement mechanisms for developing a portfolio of alternative energy sources.

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