GOP beware: Ohio overwhelmingly supports clean energy

ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Well, the Ohio GOP is at it again. After Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) failed to even get the support of his own caucus for SB 58, his bill to mangle Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, the GOP leadership has decided to pursue a new course – just letting FirstEnergy decide what to do.

On Friday, Senator Troy Balderson (R-Zainesville) introduced SB 310, a bill to immediately and indefinitely freeze the efficiency and renewables standards at 2014 levels, which would cap them at roughly one-tenth and one-fifth of the final numbers, respectively. The bill looks an awful lot like one that FirstEnergy tried to sneak through the lame-duck legislature under the cover of night in November 2012.

I won’t dive too deeply into the details of the bill or the parade of horribles it will unleash on Ohio, as it has been covered pretty effectively by other outlets; I want to focus on a different perspective, instead. Midwest Energy News has a thorough, useful primer, and the PD was actually ahead of the game by denouncing the bill as “misbegotten” and noting it would take Ohio backwards into the dark, coal-stained days of its past.

Plunderbund goes into great detail on the history and benefits of SB 221, the bill that established the state’s energy standards in 2008, and the likely consequences of SB 310 – higher energy bills, billions in lost economic activity, thousands of jobs foregone, air and water pollution, etc. As the post rightly notes,

Senator Faber made it clear that he hopes to rush this bill through the legislature and have it on the Governor’s desk before the May recess. The GOP is counting on the idea that you aren’t paying attention to this issue or that you will buy into the misinformation they are spreading. The opponents of SB 221 are not looking out for the interests of Ohioans. They are simply defending the economic interests of the fossil fuel industry and electric utilities…

The Ohio GOP is not targeting SB 221 because it has failed to work; they’re targeting it precisely because it has worked so well. In order to defend the well-being of economy, environment, and the people of our state, Ohioans need to protect SB 221.

As the French say, précisément.

But as I said, I wanted to focus on a different angle to this story. Proponents of SB 221, including Senators Seitz and Faber, continue to claim that they are standing up for the interests of ordinary Ohioans, not just their utility company benefactors. Sen. Faber claimed this bill is “based on evidence and science,” while Sen. Seitz, who loves to call his opponents “enviro-socialist rent-seekers,” repeatedly argues that the existing standards “constitute a hidden electricity tax on consumers.”

One would assume that if the standards were truly nothing more than a hidden green tax to benefit a bunch of socialist treehuggers, ordinary Ohioans would be universally opposed to it and happy to call for its appeal. Not quite.

In a poll conducted during February 2013, Ohioans demonstrated their support for the state’s energy mandates. Almost 80% of respondents expressed support for existing policies to require that at least a portion of electricity be generated from clean energy sources, while 65% indicated that they specifically support increasing renewable energy generation as a replacement for coal and natural gas.

Last November, Small Business Majority surveyed Ohio’s small businesses to get their views on the subject. They found that 53% of the state’s small businesses support SB 221 in its current form, while just 43% stood opposed. Moreover, 65% of those surveyed said that renewable energy “can have economic benefits for small business owners, such as lowering utility bills and providing new business opportunities for entrepreneurs.” Ohio’s small businesses know that the mandates have helped drive the development of a vibrant clean energy sector in the state, which already employs more than 25,000 people.

But even more surprising were the results of a survey last July from the Yale Project on Climate Communications. While the main headlines included the fact that 70% of Ohioans believe climate change and occurring, and 49% believe it is manmade, there was some information buried in the report that is germane to this debate. According to the study,

A majority (59%) supports requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources—even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year. Comparatively few (35%) would oppose this policy.

Rather than fearing the potential economic impacts of SB 221, Ohioans have embraced them with open arms. That’s because they know that the benefits of the state’s energy mandates far exceed any potential costs. In the same survey, 43% of respondents felt that switching from fossil fuels to clean energy would increase employment and economic growth. And Ohioans want their leaders to act now. Majorities – 54% and 56%, respectively – want Governor Kasich and the state legislature to do more to address climate change, including ramp up clean energy generation.

So the Ohio GOP and their friends at the big utility companies can continue to delude themselves that writing love letters to coal-fired power plants is a winning campaign strategy. But if they sow these seeds of discontent this spring, they’re going to have to reap them in November.