On May 27, after months of speculation, Cleveland-based LEEDCo, the group carting around a suitcase of plans to build wind turbines in the waters of Lake Erie, announced it won a coveted $40 million grant from the Department of Energy. It is expected to kickstart the wind farm, the first in a freshwater lake in the U.S.
It also brings into focus a conversation about the energy future of Cleveland—a city that gets more than 70% of its power from fossil fuels.
The same energy source that Cleveland has relied on for more than a century could be replaced one day by clean, renewable energy generated on rooftops and spinning a few miles off its shore. It has prompted many to ponder how to make this historic transition from burning fossil fuels to zero-carbon power.
As other parts of the country start, what can Cleveland and Ohio glean from San Diego, California or New York—two examples of places that have taken the lead (in pledging to move to 100% renewables and in a ban of fracking, respectively). Will Cleveland join their ranks?
We spoke to three leaders of campaigns looking at Ohio and Cleveland’s commitment to renewable energy.
Nicholas Macek is a Parma native and a field organizer for NextGen Climate, a national campaign led by tech billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer to set a goal that the U.S. produce 50% renewable power by 2030. Since graduating from Ohio State University last year, Macek was hired by NextGen to organize young adults in Columbus on issues and candidates supporting clean energy.
He says it’s not hard, at all, to get young voters to visualize a transition.
“A big (talking point) is the moral argument that climate change is threatening them,” he says.
Many young adults have moved on from the discourse of climate change denial, he observed.
“It’s become obvious to a lot of younger Americans that we do need to address climate change and invest in clean energy,” he said. “The conversation is about, does it support the economy and help you get a job?”
Early in its campaign, NextGen focused on Senator Rob Portman and seeking his support for the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan.
Moving off the college campus, Macek marvels at how places like his hometown of Parma have evolved on the issue.
“I think the conversation has changed drastically since I graduated high school,” he says. “It’s become clear to folks that there’s economic opportunity and cost savings to be had in clean energy. If I went back to Parma today it would be a different conversation.”
Jocelyn Travis grew up in Glenville and has worked as a field organizer for the NAACP. She signed on this spring to the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign. Its aim is for Cleveland to become the first city with a large low to moderate income population to set a 100% renewable energy goal.
“With so many health issues, like asthma, we’ve got to start somewhere,” she said.
Like NexGen, Sierra Club sees a strong argument in blue-collar Cleveland rallying for the economic impact of green jobs.
“We have to get people behind this issue,” Travis said, “because it affects you and generations to come.”
Is she daunted by working in a state where climate denial is still prevalent?
“If we can do a good job educating our community, the state will come along,” she said. “They have to answer to us. Look at what is going on in Flint (Michigan).”
Were there a groundswell of support to lift its clean energy freeze, Tyler Nickerson of the Washington-based The Solutions Project says Ohio could reap the benefits like its neighbors.
“Ohio sits in the middle of country in its support of clean energy. There’s certainly room to grow,” says Nickerson who’s role is to provide support for state policy work.
States like Pennsylvania and New York are leading the way. “States are committing to keeping it in the ground. The ban of fracking in New York and stopping of trains and pipelines like Keystone XL were the first step.”
The next step is for states like Ohio to encourage growth in renewables.
“Ohio being an aggressive leader in setting tax incentives for solar is key,” he concludes. “With its manufacturing deep roots, it can take that talent and direct it toward an investment that will have big opportunity in the long haul.”