While Washington starts to act on climate change—with the Senate voting to give money "to the economic and national security threats posed by human-induced climate change” (bi-partisan support included Senator Rob Portman)—Ohio is still frozen.
Ohio is still deciding if the freeze of its Renewable Portfolio Standard and energy efficiency program should remain. Utilities have lawmakers worried about the cost, putting an estimate of $2 billion.
But, the cost of switching off coal does not have to be nearly that high. The first five years of Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency program, before it was frozen, provide ample evidence.
In their filings with the state, power companies admit that energy efficiency programs alone netted Ohio consumers more than $1 billion in savings to date, and will result in more than $4.1 billion in savings over the program’s life.
The Ohio Manufacturers Association also support the clean energy standards, arguing that the falling prices of wind energy and solar collectors, along with energy efficiency, make clean power the most cost-effective way to meet the state’s energy needs.
"Negawatts" are national security
Where are the costs avoided by taxpayers—from higher insurance rates to property damage—in the assessment of climate change?
For example, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that climate-related disasters in 2012 cost American taxpayers more than $100 billion. Ohioans paid an estimated $4.2 billion, or $1,100 per taxpayer, in federal taxes for recovery from extreme weather events in 2012 alone.
It is very likely those threats to national security will continue, and will add up to the feds and state paying for the cost of inaction.
For example, a National Climate Assessment report for the Midwest forecasts extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality. Climate change will also exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes.
The U.S. Global Change Research Center forecasts that Northeast Ohio could see 30, or triple the current number, of days where temperatures exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (the South and West could have 100 extreme heat events) in the coming decades.
Turn on the renewables
There’s growing evidence that we can do more to meet our energy needs with renewables.
At a recent hearing in Columbus to decide if Ohio’s freeze of renewables and energy efficiency (EE) should stay or go, PJM Interconnection, the largest wholesaler of electricity in 13 states including Ohio, confirmed that wind and solar need to be ramped up to meet peak demand —when all those air conditioners are running on the hottest day of the summer.
PJM made an important point about the growth potential of renewables and EE.
The big power broker assured FirstEnergy and Ohio that it has already accounted for the full implementation of Ohio’s renewable and EE portfolio standard in its plans. PJM says it will be responsible for reliably adding more wind and solar power to the grid.
Andrew Thomas, Executive in Residence at the Energy Policy Center of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University wrote in Crain’s Cleveland Business:
“Until we have energy storage and/or smart grid technologies that reduce the impact of intermittent generation, we must be mindful of grid reliability. But based upon (PJM’s) testimony, it seems that FirstEnergy’s arguments before both the General Assembly and the PUCO are, at least for now, self-serving. Neither the portfolio standards nor the anticipated retirement of coal plants currently threaten grid reliability in Ohio.”
PJM’s statement should mark a turning point in the debate about SB 310, the legislation that led to the freeze. Essentially, it confirms analysis from NRDC which found that Ohio could meet most of the new, federal Clean Power Plan requirements while producing 8,600 jobs and homeowner energy savings totaling $903 million if it removes its freeze.
“Ohio has an opportunity to use the Clean Power Plan to its advantage,” concludes NRDC, “by tapping a well of economic growth that could provide new jobs, expand the economy, and help ward off the impacts of a changing climate. That well is clean energy.”
League of Conservation Voters has an online petition urging Ohio lawmakers to remove the SB 310 roadblock to renewables and energy efficiency.
The Ohio Senate will hold a hearing on SB 310 in Columbus on April 30 at 2:30 p.m.