Does air pollution affect the energy output of solar panels?

beijing smog 2017
beijing smog 2017

Smog engulfs Beijing on January 4 (courtesy of Jim Sciutto, CNN).

This is a very me post, so bear with me. There’s a picture of my cat at the end in it for you if you finish.

In the past few days, I came across two newsy items regarding China that caught my attention.

The first is the time lapse video below from British expat Chas Pope, who lives in Beijing. It depicts the horrific scene of a cloud of smog descending upon the city on January 2.

Beijing has long had well-known pollution issues, but the smog besetting the capital, and dozens of other cities in Northern China in recent weeks, has been historic. While fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels actually fell nearly 10% in Beijing last year, authorities have already issued red fog alerts for 24 cities – a first in Chinese history – so far in 2017. These relatively new warnings are invoked when pollution levels exceed certain thresholds for multiple days. These types of toxic smog events – like the one in Donora, Pennsylvania in 1948 – are acutely toxic and can kill thousands of people each day.

The second was this section from a Bloomberg article on the falling costs of solar power:

In China, the biggest solar market, will see costs falling below coal by 2030, according to New Energy Finance. The country has surpassed Germany as the nation with the most installed solar capacity as the government seeks to increase use to cut carbon emissions and boost home consumption of clean energy.

Because my brain works in strange ways that even I don’t fully comprehend, these two items fused in my mind to open up a new line of inquiry. We know that China is investing heavily in clean energy in order to curb its air pollution crisis, which kills some 4,400 Chinese every single day. This rapid scaling up of clean energy should help to mitigate some of the major causes for this pollution, namely reliance on coal-fired power plants for electricity and heating.

So we already understand the first side of this relationship – energy produced from solar panels affects air pollution levels. But what about the reverse? Can air pollution also affect the amount of solar energy? Does air pollution generated from fossil fuels reduce the energy output from solar panels?

Can air pollution affect output from solar panels?

On the surface, this question seems pretty straightforward. We know, for instance, that ground-level ozone (O3) inhibits plant growth. However, most of this effect seems to come from the O3 either clogging the stomata of the plants, limiting their ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, or from the O3 chemically reacting within the cells of the plants, damaging them and making them more susceptible to other stressors.

We also know that solar power output is dependent upon environmental factors, including cloud cover, solar irradiance, and ambient air temperatures. Accordingly, it would seem logical that air pollution could also play a factor.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research on this particular issue. That said, what research there is all seems to point in one direction; namely, yes, air pollution can limit solar power generation.

The impact of pollution deposition

One line of inquiry in this field of research centers on the impacts of airborne particulate settling on the solar panels themselves.

Throughout China and much of Asia, including India and Indonesia, the prime air pollutant of concern is PM2.5, which consists of various microscopic particles and drops of liquid suspended in air. Through a process known as deposition, the particles will settle out of the air, either due to rain (wet deposition) or wind (dry deposition).

When this occurs, particularly through dry deposition, the particles will cling to a surface nearby. This effect helps explain part of the reason why trees and other forms of vegetation are so effective at mitigating air pollution – leaves can trap and hold onto pollutants. But deposition can occur on nearly any surface, which is why you’ll hear stories from before the Clean Air Act about how people living in Cleveland or Pittsburgh had to change shirts at lunchtime, since they were soiled by soot and ash.

Logically, these particles can also deposit onto solar panels, if they are in the immediate vicinity. Keeping the surface of a panel clean is essential to ensuring it can capture solar radiation and convert it to electricity efficiently. Any dust from air pollution that accumulates on the panels may reduce power output through a process known as soiling.

Multiple studies have shown that soiling can reduce solar power output. In a 2001 study (paywall) in the journal Renewable Energy, Ebrahim Asl-Soleimani, Shahrokh Farhangi, and M.S. Zabihi examined the effects of panel tilt angle and ambient air pollution on solar output in Tehran.

Like many major cities with persistent pollution problems, Tehran is surrounded by mountains, which inhibits the movement of air through the city, allowing for pollution to accumulate over time. As a result, the city consistently ranks among the most polluted. Asl-Soleimani and his colleagues compared the power output of a solar panel on two days in December 1999 – one with high levels of pollution and one with clearer skies. They found that “air pollution can reduce the energy output of solar modules by more than 60%.”

John Kaldellis and Alexandra Kokala of the Technological Educational Institute of Piraeus (TEIP), a university in Athens, published a similar study in 2010. From August to September 2009, they conducted an experiment in which they exposed pairs of solar panels to ambient air pollution for different amounts of time. In addition to a control pair, they kept panels outdoors – without cleaning them or exposing them to rainfall – for 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks.

Athens suffers from many of the same pollution issues as Tehran due to its geography, and particles readily accumulated on the panels during this period. The panels left outside for 2 weeks saw 0.1 grams per square meter (g/m2) of dust accumulation, while those left out for 8 weeks saw 1 g/m2. As the dust accumulated on the panels, over time, the output deteriorated due to falling levels of solar irradiance. At 2 weeks, panel output fell by around 2%. This value climbed to 6.5% by week 8.

Additionally, Miqdam Chaichan, Bashar Mohammed, and Hussein Kazem published an article (PDF) in April 2015 that examined the effects of pollution and dust on solar panel output in Iraq. They compared the output of a panel they cleaned by hand to one cleaned naturally by rainfall and one covered in particles from ambient pollution. Compared to the clean panel, power output fell for the naturally cleaned and polluted panels by 7.6% and 11.9%, respectively. The average efficiency rate of the solar cell on the polluted panel actually fell from 4.8% to just 1.7%, an astonishing 63.7% drop in efficiency.

According to these authors, PM10 and PM2.5 are particularly harmful to solar panels because, unlike larger dust particles, one cannot readily wash them off. As a result, the accumulation of PM can damage the surface of the panel, lowering its efficiency and shortening its lifespan.

Pollution also blocks out sunlight

But deposition is not the only way that air pollution can affect solar power production. Much as cloud cover can reduce the amount of solar radiation that reaches the photovoltaic (PV) cells, so too can heavy smog, like what residents of Beijing are enduring.

Mohammadreza Maghami and colleagues from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) examined this issue in a 2014 article for PLOS OneIn the study, they compared the output from solar panels on the UPM campus before, during, and after a major pollution event throughout Southeast Asia from June 13-19, 2013.

They authors cleaned two solar panels on June 1, then tracked their average output from before (June 1-10), during (June 11-21), and after (June 22-30) the haze, taking power output samples every 30 minutes. As the chart shows, power output plummeted as the haze set in, and ultimately jumped back up after it ended.

power output 2013 haze

Power output from fixed flat PV (FF) and tracking flat PV (TF) solar panels before, during, and after the 2013 Southeast Asian haze event (courtesy of Maghami et al).

While daily average energy output was 8.5 kWh before and 10.6 kWh after the haze, it fell to just 6.5 kWh during the pollution event, a reduction of 23% and 39%, respectively. As the researchers concluded, “the effect on PV generation was strongly dependent on the haze pollution.”

Ultimately, while the literature is relatively sparse, its results are conclusive. Just as air pollution from fossil fuel combustion harms public health and the environment, it also undermines the productivity of the clean energy we are counting on to replace it. Fossil fuels suck.

 

As promised, here’s Gigi.

Gigi being sassy AF.

 

Don’t believe the lies – Ohio can’t afford to extend the freeze on clean energy

students protesting against sb 310
students protesting against sb 310

Students protesting against SB 310 in front of the Ohio Statehouse on May 14, 2014 (courtesy of Ohio Beyond Coal).

I wrote my first post on SB 310, the legislation that froze for two years Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standards, all the way back on March 31, 2014. That was the day that Senator Troy Balderson (R-Zainesville) introduced the bill to the Senate Public Utilities Committee.

Since that point, I have written at least 14 other posts that touch on this abysmal legislation in one way or another. Given that we’re now well into 2016, the final year of the freeze, I’d like nothing more than to see out this reprieve and forget this whole shameful episode ever happened.

But, this isn’t to be, perhaps because God hates Cleveland and all of us who live here.

One of the elements of SB 310 was the creation of the Energy Mandates Study Committee, a 12-member panel composed of lawmakers from both houses of the legislature. It’s specified task should give you a pretty good idea of its intended outcome (emphasis mine):

Section 3. It is the intent of the General Assembly to ensure that customers in Ohio have access to affordable energy. It is the intent of the General Assembly to incorporate as many forms of inexpensive, reliable energy sources in the state of Ohio as possible. It is also the intent of the General Assembly to get a better understanding of how energy mandates impact jobs and the economy in Ohio and to minimize government mandates. Because the energy mandates in current law may be unrealistic and unattainable, it is the intent of the General Assembly to review all energy resources as part of its efforts to address energy pricing issues.

Therefore, it is the intent of the General Assembly to enact legislation in the future, after taking into account the recommendations of the Energy Mandates Study Committee, that will reduce the mandates in sections 4928.64 and 4928.66 of the Revised Code and provide greater transparency to electric customers on the costs of future energy mandates, if there are to be any.

Naturally, when the group released its biased cost analysis (PDF) of the energy standards last fall (and I say cost analysis, because it’s kind of hard to do a cost-benefit analysis when you refuse to consider benefits), the GOP-dominated panel called for extending the freeze indefinitely:

Until the US EPA provides greater clarity on the operation of the [Clean Power Plan], and until litigation is resolved, the Study Committee feels compelled to extend Ohio’s freeze of the Mandates.

Interestingly, Governor John Kasich, who changes his tune on clean energy everytime he opens his mouth, took a brief time out from his quixotic presidential campaign to state that he opposed this idea. And so that’s where things sat for seven months. Nobody showed their hand, at least publicly, and we plodded along towards the end of the freeze.

Then, on Wednesday, I was greeted with this headline in the Columbus Dispatch: “Bill continuing ‘freeze’ on clean energy expected soon.”

It seems our old friend Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) is acting on Study Committee’s recommendations and proposing a three-year extension of the freeze. Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) informed the Dispatch that he supports the idea.

Here is my official reaction to this proposal:

computer rage

To be honest, I don’t even want to write about this any more. People have already raised just about every argument as to why SB 310 (and any continuation of it) is terrible public policy. We’ve already explained how energy efficiency is the cheapest source of electricity in Ohio; how renewables are driving down energy bills and increasing grid resilience; how clean energy is creating thousands of good paying jobs for Ohioans; how the energy standards have saved ratepayers $2-4 for every $1 invested. None of it has mattered.

So let’s just take a look at the real impact of this bill on the people of Ohio. Maintaining the status quo on electricity generation in this state will have real, tangible impacts on public health and quality of life, even if fossil fuel boosters would prefer to ignore this.

Shortly after the Study Committee released its cost analysis, a coalition of environmental groups released the heretofore nonexistent benefits analysis. Their study examines the impacts of restoring the state’s clean energy standards in 2017 and allowing them to continue through 2029. Though the Study Committee recommended an indefinite suspension of the standards, this outcome seems unlikely in light of Gov. Kasich’s professed opposition. This is particularly the case, given that Sen. Seitz, the most vocal and insufferable opponent of the standards, is only calling for a three-year extension of this moratorium.

Accordingly, I will only outline the foregone public health benefits of this proposal, which would stretch from 2017-2019. (I will just ignore, for a moment, the fact that the deadline for states to submit their CPP compliance plans to the EPA falls on September 6, 2018, smack dab in the middle of this extended freeze.) This benefits analysis assumes that each megawatt hour (MWh) of renewable energy generation/energy efficiency installed in Ohio will displace either 0.4 or 0.6 MWh of coal-fired power, with natural gas generation making up the difference.

While the benefits of swapping fossil fuels for renewables and efficiency compound over time, they are still significant in the short-term. Restoring the clean energy standards would reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the state by roughly 12.5 million tons per year from 2017 to 2019. Moreover, cutting Ohio’s reliance on coal-fired power will also slash harmful air pollutants, including fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

co2 emissions with & without sb 221

CO2 emissions in Ohio from 2017-2029, with and without the state’s clean energy standards (courtesy of NRDC).

In 2017 alone, this reduction in PM2.5 levels would prevent 16,900 lost work days, 2,230 asthma attacks, 100 hospital admissions, and 230 nonfatal heart attacks. It would also prevent anywhere from 140 to 370 premature deaths. Adding in 2018 and 2019, these numbers increase to a total of 480 to 1,240 premature deaths, 350 hospital admissions, 7,540 asthma attacks, 760 nonfatal heart attacks, and 57,110 lost work days avoided.

These benefits are truly staggering.  Let’s calculate the economic benefits of the premature deaths prevented. Using the EPA’s statistical value of a human life, which is $9.1 million, we get a total social benefit of anywhere from $4.37 billion to $11.28 billion by 2019. And, again, I’m only talking about the next three years. Extending this out to 2029, as this study does, increases the number of avoided deaths to 2,820, which has a total value of $25.66 billion.

The Ohio GOP may want you to believe that the state’s clean energy standards are raising energy costs, crippling businesses, and killing jobs, but they’re doing precisely the opposite. They can try to obfuscate this by leaving the benefits out of cost-benefit analyses and by including line items on your electric bill showing the supposed costs of complying with these standards.

But when you account for the true costs of fossil fuels in this state, in both blood and treasure, you quickly come to the conclusion that we cannot afford not to implement these standards. So end the damn freeze already.

SB 310 makes it far harder for Ohio to comply with the Clean Power Plan

obama clean power plan
obama clean power plan

President Obama delivers his speech announcing the final Clean Power Plan on Monday, August 3 (courtesy of Susan Walsh/Associated Press).

Last Monday, President Obama stood at the podium in the East Room of the White House to announce “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change” – the final Clean Power Plan (CPP). As the President noted in his remarks, this final rule amounts to “the first-ever nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from power plants” into our atmosphere. The EPA projects that, if fully implemented, carbon emissions from US power plants should be 32% lower in 2030 than in 2005.

Here in Ohio, the rule was met by a mixture of excitement from those of us who want the country to take action on climate change and outrage from those who oppose such steps. Attorney General Mike DeWine joined 11 other attorneys general in a lawsuit to derail the rule, while notorious Ohio coal firm and serial litigant Murray Energy intends to file no fewer than 5 separate suits.

Changes to the final Clean Power Plan that affect Ohio

Given all of this controversy over the CPP, it may be wise to take a step back and consider just how the rule would affect Ohio. Last year, I explored how Ohio fared in the proposed CPP and how the state’s clean energy standards put it on a solid path towards meeting its carbon reduction targets. While that analysis was relevant at the time, we need to revisit it, as the final CPP is different from the proposed version in a lot of ways. For the sake of this post, here are a few of the key changes that will affect Ohio:

  1. State compliance plan date: Under the proposed CPP, states needed to submit their compliance plans to the EPA by June 30, 2016. The final rule pushes this date back to September 6, 2018, but with a caveat. States still need to submit either a final plan or an interim plan in 2016, but they can request a 2-year extension of the deadline if they meet certain criteria. This matters, as Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler has already stated that he will wait until to submit a plan until he sees how the rule fares in the federal court system, which may take years.
  2. Emissions cuts to begin later: Whereas the proposed CPP required states to begin cutting carbon emissions in 2020 and continue through 2030, the final rule delays that effective date until 2022. This 2-year delay is important for Ohio as a result of SB 310, as I will explore later.
  3. Changing the way that emissions reductions are measured: Originally, the EPA planned to measure emissions reductions as the change in how many pounds of carbon emissions a state produces per megawatt hour (MWh) of energy it produced (“rate-based”). But the Agency has now added a “mass-based” approach, which shows reductions in the actual tons of carbon states emit. Additionally, EPA has changed the state-by-state targets to account for the fact that the utility sector operates within 3 broader regions. As a result, Ohio’s rate-based target was strengthened from 1,338 lbs/MWh to 1,190, up to 37.4% from a 27.7%. The mass-based reduction remains at a comparable 27.85%.
  4. Eliminating the energy efficiency benchmark: The proposed CPP created federal guidelines for state compliance plans that included 4 main building blocks: improved coal plant efficiency, more use of natural gas, increasing renewable energy generation, and improving demand-side energy efficiency. EPA has removed the energy efficiency building block, which has significantly reduced the CPP’s legal vulnerability. Fortunately, EPA did not scrap demand-side energy efficiency entirely. Instead, it will allow states to include it as part of their state compliance plan.

How Ohio can meet its Clean Power Plan requirements

Fortunately, Ohio is well-positioned to meet its emissions reduction targets under the CPP, as multiple analyses have shown.

In a 2013 analysis, the World Resources Institute found that, if Ohio fully implemented its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) that the state passed nearly unanimously back under SB 221, it could cut its carbon emissions by 17% through 2020.

WRI’s analysis also calculated the emissions savings from the other 2 building blocks in the CPP. It estimated that Ohio could cut its emissions by 7% by 2020 if it increased the operating capacity of its existing natural gas fleet (building block 2). The state could further cut emissions by 2% if it improved its coal plant efficiency by 2.5% (building block 1). Combined, these four actions would get Ohio to a 26% cut by 2020, before the CPP’s requirements even kick in. And if Ohio continued to implement its EERS and RPS beyond their current end date, the state would be able to meet and exceed its required carbon targets.

wri ohio emissions clean power plan

Ohio can cut its carbon emissions by up to 24% through 2020, depending on the policies it implements under the Clean Power Plan (courtesy of World Resources Institute).

SB 310 will make increase the costs of compliance

While Ohio is currently in decent shape, SB 310 will unquestionably make it more difficult and more expensive for the state to comply with the CPP.

The two-year freeze on the RPS and EERS will deprive the state of renewable energy and energy efficiency gains that it could count towards future benchmarks. Though it pushed back the date when states have to demonstrate emissions cuts by 2 years, EPA wants to encourage states to reduce their carbon emissions before that point. Accordingly, the final CPP creates a Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP), which allows states to get credits for renewable energy generation and energy efficiency measures taken in 2020 and 2021 and apply these to reduction targets in subsequent years. For every 1 MWh of wind or solar that a utility brings on line, it will get a 1 MWh credit towards future emissions reductions. And for every 1 MWh saved through energy efficiency projects in low-income communities, utilities will get a 2 MWh credit.

Because SB 310 freezes Ohio’s RPS and EERS for 2015 and 2016, the RPS and EERS benchmarks will be lower during 2020 and 2021. RPS benchmarks will decline to 6.5% and 7.5% from 8.5% and 9.5%, respectively, while the efficiency requirement for 2020 will be halved to 1%. According to projections from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), the state’s major electric utilities would have generated almost 25.9 million MWh of renewables in 2020 and 2021; however, thanks to SB 310, this number will fall by nearly 25% to 19.4 million MWh.

The freeze will also cut into the amount of low-income energy efficiency projects carried out in the state. From 2009-2012, Ohio’s major electric utilities realized  55,084 MWh in energy savings from low-income projects. This accounted for just under 1% of total savings. Based on estimates from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Ohio was on course to save 56,410 MWh from energy efficiency in 2020 and 2021 before SB 310. Using revised energy savings from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which account for SB 310’s effects, this number would fall to 46,866 MWh. Because these savings get double credit in the CEIP, Ohio will lose out on 19,048 MWh of emissions reduction credits (ERCs).

All told, the 2-year freeze on Ohio’s clean energy standards enacted under SB 310 will cause the state to miss out 6,476,386 MWh of ERCs. If we assume that each of those MWh would have offset a unit from a fossil fuel plant, we can estimate how many tons of carbon emission reductions the state will lose. EPA has calculated that Ohio’s power plants release 1,900 pounds of CO2 per MWh; as such, Ohio will lose ERCs worth roughly 6,152,567 short tons of CO2. Applying a social cost of carbon at $40 per ton means that this one effect of SB 310 will cost the state more than $246 million.

But that doesn’t account for any potential reductions in the RPS and EERS benchmarks. The bill’s language makes it perfectly clear that the Ohio legislature intends to “enact legislation in the future… that will reduce the mandates.” Any future reductions to these clean energy standards will make it that much harder for Ohio to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

What should Ohio’s elected officials do?

Clearly, SB 310 carries a big price tag for Ohio. The state’s elected officials should take action on three fronts to address this issue.

First, the legislature needs to pass a bill restoring Ohio’s clean energy standards as enacted under SB 221. It should not wait until the freeze comes to an end on December 31, 2016. Instead, legislators should use the final report from the Energy Mandates Study Committee, which is expected to be released this fall, as a reason to restore the standards effective January 1. Interestingly, OEPA Director Butler told Gongwer (subscription required) that, despite his reservations, he realizes restoring the standards from SB 221 would help Ohio meet its emission reductions targets. Beyond this step, however, the legislature should look to pass a follow-up bill by the end of the next session that will extend and, preferably, strengthen these standards through at least 2030.

Second, Ohio should begin exploring how it can partner with other states to form a regional carbon trading system. The final CPP explicitly allows and even encourages states to pursue this route. Several Midwestern states have been meeting under the auspices of the Great Plans Institute to discuss this option, but Ohio has conspicuously been absent. It would be in the state’s best interest to work with its neighbors in order to lower the cost of compliance.

Third, Ohio needs to double down on low-income energy efficiency. According to Policy Matters Ohio, the state currently weatherizes roughly 7,000 homes per year. This number accounts for just 1.5% of the households in the state who seek emergency assistance for their utility bills each year. Not only will ramping up low-income weatherization allow the state to get additional credits through the CEIP, it will generate tangible benefits. Every $1 million invested in weatherization leads to the creation of 75 jobs.

Ultimately, SB 310 has cost Ohio considerably, but it’s not too late to mitigate those effects. Every day that Ohio continues to languish under this bill will continue to add to those costs. It’s time to act.

Update (8/13/2015, 3:45pm): Since I posted this, the Union of Concerned Scientists has updated its state-by-state projections on the Clean Power Plan. In June, they concluded that Ohio was on track to meet and actually exceed its 2020 interim reduction benchmark under the proposed CPP. The new analysis finds that Ohio is now on track to achieve 84% compliance with its rate-based goal and 130% compliance with its mass-based goal for the 2022 benchmark. Without implementing additional policies, however, the state would only 44% and 56% of its rate- and mass-based targets, respectively.

Additionally, I noted that, based on the EPA’s social cost of carbon ($40 per ton), the emissions reductions that Ohio will miss in 2020 and 2021 as a result of SB 310 would carry a cost of more than $246 million. This number does not account for the costs of other air pollutants that power plants release in addition to CO2. Based on a 2010 study, which reviewed the literature on the air quality co-benefits of carbon reductions, the average air quality benefit for developed countries per ton of CO2 is $44. Based on this number, Ohio would not only incur climate change-related costs of $246 million, it would also forego air quality improvements worth more than $270 million. Combined, SB 310 will cost the state nearly $517 million in 2020 and 2021 alone.

Ohio’s Clean Energy Bond Proposal Is A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

ohio statehouse
ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

So this is a bit delayed, but I wrote this post for Plunderbund at the end of July:

On Monday, July 7, Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that he had certified the petition language for the so-called Ohio Clean Energy Initiative. This initiative, which would be an amendment to the state Constitution – provided it gets the necessary 385,253 certified signatures – would require the state of Ohio to issue $1.3 billion in bonds per year over the course of 10 years to finance clean energy investments. This marks the fourth separate time that the group behind the idea, Yes for Ohio’s Energy Future, has attempted to put it before voters.

Now, on the surface, this proposal seems like a good idea, particularly in light of the recent Republican-led efforts to smother the growth of Ohio’s clean energy industry. Due to the combined effects of SB 310 and HB 483, which Governor Kasich signed into law in June, clean energy investors now see Ohio as something of a no go zone. Shortly after the Governor signed SB 310 into law, the American Wind Energy Association warned that 10 planned wind energy projects, which together account for more than $2.5 billion in investments, were under threat. Three of these projects already appear to be on the chopping block.

Surely, a proposal that would inject $13 billion into the state’s endangered clean energy industry is worth supporting, right?

Well, though the initiative did get a lot of coverage in Ohio’s newspapers, most of the articles were remarkably short on details. And that’s exactly the issue. Surprisingly, this proposal has managed to unite the Columbus Dispatch editorial board and Secretary of State Jon Husted with the Ohio Sierra Club, the Ohio Environmental Council, Environment Ohio, and the Union of Concerned Scientists in firm opposition. So what gives?

First, the proposal suffers from a startling lack of transparency and accountability. It calls for the creation of the Ohio Energy Initiative Commission (OEIC), a private LLC to be incorporated in Delaware, a state not exactly known for rigorous corporate oversight. This OEIC would have complete control over how the bond revenues would be allocated and spent; no one in the legislative or executive branches would be able to provide input, ostensibly to protect the process from partisanship. Strangely enough, despite the fact that this Commission would have complete control over these public dollars, the proposed amendment does not clearly indicate how or even that its members will be selected.

Given the controversy surrounding the state’s latest venture into this territory – JobsOhio – it should give Ohioans great pause to consider billions in public funding to an anonymous group of individuals who may or may not have any relevant qualifications. While the OEIC would be subject to public records laws, unlike JobsOhio, granting this much power to an unknown entity would represent a dangerous precedent for the state. Moreover, the language specifically requires the state to provide an astonishing $65 million for OEIC’s operational expenses on an annual basis. To put that into perspective, the Ohio EPA has an operating budget of $10.9 million.

Specifics on the initiative’s backers are few and far between. According to The Plain Dealer, Harvard Business Services, Inc. registered the LLC with the Delaware Division of Corporate Records. As a result, we are unable to know the names and affiliations of the individuals behind this group.

While German Trejo, a spokesman for Yes for Ohio’s Energy Future, told Bloomberg Businessweek the effort is “a truly citizen-driven idea” led by a group of concerned Ohioans, the evidence does not seem to back him up. The Dispatchdescribes its backers as “five people from central Ohio,” and neither Trejo nor any other representative has provided additional information on the group’s genesis.

Yes for Ohio’s Energy Future has even tried to gain credibility by stealing it from the Ohio Third Frontier Initiative. On its FAQ page, the group cites outcomes from Third Frontier as a way to justify its proposal. But, unlike the OEIC, Third Frontier is housed under the Ohio Department of Development and subject to public scrutiny and accountability.

Secondly, although the organizers depict themselves as clean energy advocates and liberally use pictures of wind turbines and solar panels, the actual text of the of proposal leaves the door open to financing for dirty energy projects. In section (A)(1) of the proposed Constitutional Amendment, an eligible energy infrastructure capital improvement is defined as projects that  “shall include, but not be limited to, solar, wind, biomass, battery technology, and geothermal facilities…” (emphasis mine).

Perhaps the only positive thing to come out of SB 310 was that it removed the requirement in SB 221 that the state get 12.5% of its energy from “advanced energy” technologies by 2025. These projects can include controversial alternatives to traditional renewables, such as waste-to-energy plants and “clean coal” technologies (perhaps the most oxymoronic name I’ve ever run across). Given Ohio’s continued dependence on fossil fuel energy – the state got two-thirds of its electricity from coal in 2013 and roughly 10% from natural gas – the potential for such dirty energy projects to crowd out funding for clean energy is clear.

Yet, unlike wind and solar, such “advanced” energy alternatives are frequently hampered by environmental and budgetary concerns. We know that many coal-friendly politicians in the Midwest would love to see their states allocate large sums of money for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at coal plants. Such technologies scrub carbon dioxide from power plant emissions, capture it, and store it underground. While it’s true that we may one day need to invest in CCS in order to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere, as a hedge against catastrophic climate change, that day has not yet arrived. CCS technologies require large sums of energy, lowering the efficiency of power plants; as a result, evidence suggests that CCS can increase the cost of coal-fired power by as much as one-third.

Moreover, CCS projects have continually been beset by delays and cost overruns. The Bush administration initially cancelled the much hyped FutureGen 2.0 project in Illinois back in 2008 after the price tag ballooned to $1.65 billion, while Southern Power has once again delayed its Kemper County plant into 2015 over rising costs. Solar and wind, in contrast, enjoy steep learning curves, allowing systems to get cheaper with each subsequent installation. The price of solar panels, for instance, falls by more than 20% each time that the installed capacity doubles.

Unfortunately, it appears as though this proposal would stand a strong chance of succeeding, provided it makes the ballot. In a January poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, 65% of respondents indicated they would likely support the measure.

Ohio’s energy future stands at a crossroads over the next two years. The state can opt to make SB 310’s two-year freeze just that, or it can abandon a path that helped create 25,000 jobs, reduced energy costs, and inject millions into the state’s economy. This proposal muddies that picture even further by making well-intentioned Ohioans think they are acting in the state’s best interest, when the result could be otherwise. I’m optimistic that the people behind this effort will fail, once again, to get their proposal on the ballot. But it is imperative that we truly understand what is in the text and write another bad idea into our Constitution.

Ohio GOP’s attacks on clean energy are already costing the state

blue creek wind farm
blue creek wind farm

The Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert County (courtesy of The Dayton Daily News).

One month ago (well, one month and 4 days, but who’s counting?), Ohio became the first state in the country to freeze its clean energy standards, when Governor Kasich signed SB 310 into law. At the same time, the Governor signed HB 483, the Mid-Biennial Review of the budget, into which the Ohio GOP slipped a new setback requirement for wind turbines.

The American Wind Energy Association, along with other opponents of these bills, warned lawmakers about their potential impacts on the state’s budding clean energy industry. In a press release issued shortly after the Governor signed both bills into law, AWEA said:

Gov. John Kasich and the Legislature today abandoned $2.5 billion in current wind energy projects, which now face cancellation along with jobs, leases, payments to local governments, and orders for factories, over a needlessly restrictive setback requirement that Kasich signed into law today.

In a press conference yesterday, Governor Kasich tried to defend his record on clean energy and environmental issues. He once again claimed that he played an essential role in “moderating” SB 310, ensuring that the bill only froze the standards, rather than rolling them back altogether. He also defended the increased setback rule for the first time publicly, telling a group of business leaders in Bellview,

“Private property rights are important. People choose to live somewhere. You just don’t go in there and disrupt their life.”

Now, the Dispatch piece does not explain if the Governor feels the same way about oil and gas wells, for which the Ohio Revised Code only mandates a 100- to 150-foot setback rule; given his history with the fossil fuel industry, I’m going to guess not. But based on the Governor’s comments, it would seem like SB 310 and HB 438 should have minimal impacts.

Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), who never met a hyperbolic statement he didn’t like, echoed the Governor’s views. In an article on Gongwer (paywalled) from May, he said,

Today is just the latest in a long line of sky-is-falling hyperbole coming out of their camp. If you’re serious about it, you’d be in there talking to the people that are actually going to vote instead of on the airwaves and jumping up and down at hastily contrived press conferences.

So, one month later, let’s take a look at the clean energy landscape in Ohio. Were those of us opposed to SB 310 and HB 483 really just fear mongering to get our way, as the Ohio GOP has claimed? Would that this were true. In recent days, two major renewable energy companies have stated that they are delaying utility-scale wind installations, and they may end up scrapping the projects altogether.

On Friday, the Lima News reported that Iberdrola Renewables, the company that built the Blue Creek Wind Farm in western Ohio, has suspended work on both its Hog Creek and Leipsic Wind Farms. Hog Creek, which has already been approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board, would include 35 turbines, generating approximately 67 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Iberdrola is awaiting final approval for the Leipsic installation, which would have 75 turbines turning out 150 MW of power.

The next day, Everpower Renewables said that one of its projects, the Buckeye Wind Farm in Champaign County, may never get off the ground, despite the fact that the company has already invested millions in it. The project, which includes two phases, would see the company build roughly 100 turbines, producing enough electricity (200 MW) to power 50,000 houses. Buckeye would also generate $1.2 million in annual tax revenues, create more than 100 construction jobs, and offset 308,000 tons of CO2 each year. Yet, due to a lengthy legal battle and the knock on effects of these two bills, Everpower may have to abandon Buckeye entirely.

While it may seem unlikely that the bills would affect projects that have already been approved (particularly given the fact that the wind siting amendment in HB 483 grandfathered in such projects), that no longer appears to be the case. The way the law is written, the new, more restrictive siting requirements would kick in if any changes were made to a project’s scope of work. These changes could include utilizing a newer wind turbine model.

According to AWEA, Ohio ranked 26th in the country last year for wind power, generating 432 MW. These two bills could effectively derail projects that would generate a combined 417 MW, or 96.5% of this total. So much for the supposed hyperbole from SB 310 opponents. It may be easy to decry the other side as nothing more than another Cassandra, but we should remember one thing – Cassandra was right.

The Ohio GOP takes up another front in its all-out assault on clean energy

Senator Bill Seitz
Senator Bill Seitz

Ohio State Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati (courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch)

You know that saying “When God closes a door, he opens a window”? Well, these days in Ohio that should really be more like “When God opens a window, he then changes his mind and repeatedly slams it on your fingers.”

This morning, I briefly got my hopes up when I saw an alert from Gongwer Ohio that the Ohio House had delayed its vote on SB 310. The House GOP caucus had planned to vote the bill out of committee and bring it to the floor today, but given the mounting pressure from wide array of groups, including the business community, it pushed the vote into next week.

charles nelson batchelder

Speaker of the Ohio House William Batchelder

Mike Dittoe, the spokesman for Charles Nelson Reilly…I mean William Batchelder (R-Medina) told the Columbus Dispatch“Members just wanted to talk through the bill a little more.”

Obviously this should be great news. The last scheduled session for the Ohio House before the summer recess is next Wednesday. This would seem to suggest that, if opponents could keep the heat on for a little longer, the House may not pass it before going on vacation. Obviously thinking that is true is a bit naive, but a guy can dream.

So I signed up for a Gongwer trial to read more about the delay. And then I came across this story immediately thereafter: “MBR Amendment Imposes New Siting Requirements For Wind Farms” (subscription required).

From the story:

Senators finishing up work on Gov. John Kasich’s mid-biennium review Tuesday added a provision that the wind industry described as another severe setback for renewable energy in Ohio.

The proposal included in an omnibus amendment to the MBR appropriations measure (HB 483*) would require wind turbines be at least 1,125 feet from neighboring property lines. The current 1,125-foot setback distance applies to inhabited structures on neighbors’ land.

The amendment was adopted in the Senate Finance Committee at the same time the House is preparing to vote on a bill (SB 310*) that would restrict Ohio’s renewable energy standards. (See separate story)

Lobbyist Dayna Baird, who represents the American Wind Energy Association, said the new setback language would “effectively kill all wind development in the state of Ohio.”

For example, of the 152 turbines on the Blue Creek wind farm, the state’s largest wind energy project, only 13 could have been built had the new setback language been in place at the time, she said.

The proposed change comes after state’s wind turbine setback was expanded in last year’s budget bill (HB 59*) from 750 feet from inhabited structures to 1,125 feet from homes.

Did you catch that? The Ohio GOP, just a year after increasing the setback requirement for wind turbines by 50% from 750 to 1,125 feet, has now decided that restriction should apply to neighboring property lines, not residences/structures. It inserted this completely unrelated poison pill into the mid-biennium review budget (MBR) under the cover of night, knowing full well that opponents are already so busy taking on their other assault on clean energy, SB 310, our attention would be diverted.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, there are currently 10 wind projects awaiting approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board. These projects would bring a combined $2.5 billion in investment to the state, largely in underserved areas. But rather than encouraging these investments, which would create good jobs, pollution-free energy, and local tax revenues, the Ohio GOP decided to tell the wind industry to go screw itself.

All of these 10 projects were submitted under the old rule, which required a 750-foot setback. But this amendment will now change this requirement so that the setback applies to property lines, ensuring that they are not in compliance with the law. This change comes immediately on the heels of the Senate ramming multiple poison pills into SB 310 that will have similarly devastating effects on the industry. AWEA has warned that, if this amendment is approved, these 10 projects are dead in the water.

It bears repeating – clean energy employs more than 25,000 Ohioans, and the state currently has the largest wind-related manufacturing industry in the country. But apparently the GOP’s utter fealty to the fossil fuel industry blinds them to these realities and forces them to see anyone working in clean energy as a potential threat. Naturally, Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) immediately hailed the amendment, calling it “long overdue” and saying he “applaud[ed] it heartily.” When the guy who compared clean energy to the Bataan death march supports an amendment, that should tell you all you need to know.

The Ohio GOP is trusting that we are too distracted by SB 310 to pay attention to the rest of their full-frontal assault on this state’s clean energy industry. We can still hope that Governor Kasich uses his line-item veto to strip this provision out of the MBR bill, but that can only happen if we demand it.

What is the real cost of freezing Ohio’s clean energy standards?

oec clean energy infographic
students protesting against sb 310

Students protesting against SB 310 in front of the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday, May 14 (courtesy of Ohio Beyond Coal).

I have asthma. According to the CDC, I am one of 831,787 Ohioans and 25.9 million Americans living with this condition (PDF). That means that 1 out of every 12 Americans is living with asthma, up from 1 out of 14 in 2001.

While people who may not have firsthand experience with this illness may not understand, asthma is far more than just an inconvenience. I’ve heard and seen children with asthma describe feeling like fish out of water when they are suffering an attack. It’s terrifying to not be able to get the air you need. While I don’t think I was ever really in any acute danger, the fact remains that 185 children and 3,262 adults died of asthma in 2007.

As much as I hate to admit it, asthma came to define much of my childhood. From the day that I was diagnosed at either 5 or 6 (I can’t remember the exact date), my severe asthma was omnipresent. Many of my memories from this period involve such episodes, including the role that my mom played in helping me deal with these attacks. Growing up, my mom routinely worked 60-hour weeks and stayed until 3:00 a.m. or later every Tuesday night to edit her newspapers. Despite this, she was always there to listen to my lungs to see if I was wheezing; to pick me up from school or practice if I had an attack; to ferry me to and from the the ER when I needed treatment; and to sit next to me in the hospital for the long hours while I underwent tests, got chest x-rays, and did my nebulizer treatments.

I vividly remember my first major asthma attack. It was the spring of 1993, and I started having breathing trouble towards the end of the school day. The attack only got worse throughout the afternoon, and when my mom got home from work around 6:00 p.m., she immediately drove me to the ER at Fairview Hospital. We sat in that ER for hours before a doctor could see me and for several hours more before they were able to admit me for care. My mom stayed with me right until they took me up to my room for admittance at 3:30 a.m. I ended up spending three days in the hospital for treatment and observation (thankfully, it was the only time that I actually got admitted for asthma). This is just one of the thousand acts of kindness from her that I can never fully repay.

Fortunately, as I got older, I began to grow out of this severe asthma. Today, I am able to live a normal life without worrying about when my next attack will come. But, at the same time, I know that the threat remains, and I have my emergency inhaler on hand, just in case. I was reminded of this quite vividly back in the fall of 2005 when I went in for routine surgery. The procedure required me to go under general anesthesia, so the doctors intubated me. But, after the surgery, when they tried to remove the tube, I suffered a severe bronchial spasm that cut off my breathing. My blood-oxygen saturation levels plummeted into the mid to upper 60s (normal levels are 95-100%), and I ended up spending the next 24 hours in the ICU, an experience I recommend avoiding, if at all possible.

I have no idea how much my asthma diagnosis ended up costing my parents in medical bills and lost time at work, but I imagine the amount was substantial. I did see the medical bills that came in during my stay at the ICU and, even with insurance, they were staggering. For the millions of Americans who suffer with asthma everyday, many of whom do not have insurance, this diagnosis is a real burden. On average, asthmatics spend $3,300 in medical costs each year. According to CDC numbers, asthma costs total $56 billion in direct medical costs, lost school and work days, and premature deaths. Everyday in this country, 36,000 children miss school and 27,000 adults miss work due to this condition.

My past (and present) as someone living with asthma has made me an advocate for clean air. We know that air pollution is both a root cause of the condition and a proximate trigger of asthma attacks. And that’s what pisses me off so much at SB 310. By crippling Ohio’s clean energy industry and protecting the fossil fuel industry, it will directly contribute to more asthma attacks and more chronic pulmonary diseases. This bill will carry a high cost in blood and treasure for our state.

It’s great to focus on how this bill will destroy jobs and harm a thriving clean energy industry in the state (which I’ve done), but SB 310 proponents just counter with their BS “war on coal” retort, a completely disingenuous argument that is, nonetheless, powerful in this state. But it’s another thing entirely for proponents of this bill to hear about the ways that it will directly affect the health of thousands of Ohioans and just not even give a shit.

Yesterday. the Ohio Environmental Council released this infographic showing the benefits of the state’s clean energy standards during 2013:

oec clean energy infographic

Source: Ohio Environmental Council

Using these numbers and EPA incidence factors, we can roughly calculate the economic and health benefits of the clean energy standards in 2013 alone. According to 2011 EPA standards, every ton of NOx, SO2, and PM2.5 has has the following benefits:

incidence factors for power plant emissions

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency

Accordingly, using these numbers, the reductions in NOx and SO2 emissions saved 3.5 lives, 267 lost work days, 59 asthma attacks, and 2.5 non-fatal heart attacks last year alone. And, based on Lepuele et al.’s economic benefit estimates, these standards had a health-related economic benefit of $208,620,000 in 2013.

But these numbers don’t even take into account the social benefit of the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by the standards. The US government currently uses $37 per ton as its social cost of carbon emissions. Accordingly, given that these standards saved 1,061,300 tons of GHGs in 2013, they created an economic benefit of $39,268,100. In total, using these conservative estimates, Ohio’s clean energy standards generated an additional economic benefit of $247,888,100 in 2013 alone.

These savings are not included in other analyses, but they are real, and they affect the lives of ordinary Ohioans everyday. The facts are clear – a vote for SB 310 is a vote for more asthma attacks, more heart attacks, more work and school days missed, more trips to the ER, more premature deaths, and more of the carbon pollution that is driving climate change. These are the the stakes.

If SB 310 proponents really wanted to show the real cost of these standards on Ohioan’s electric bills, as they claim, they should include a provision in the bill that requires the inclusion of these numbers. Somehow I doubt that would go over too well.

How much will SB 310 cost you?

sb 310 costs

Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy  just released a new report that demonstrates how SB 310 will raise electricity rates in Ohio. Find out how much more you will have to pay from 2015-2016 if the legislature freezes Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards.

[CP_CALCULATED_FIELDS id=”6″] [CP_CALCULATED_FIELDS id=”7″]

*Calculators use estimated additional cost of electricity for residential and commercial users in Ohio from the OAEE/OPAE report. The report uses Public Utilities Commission of Ohio data, which is based on 750 kWh per month for residential customers and 300,000 kWh per month for commercial customers.

There’s nothing moderate or reasonable about Senate Bill 310

john kasich
john kasich

Governor John Kasich will ultimately decide the fate of Ohio’s clean energy future. God help us all (courtesy of the Toledo Blade).

Ever since Senator Troy Balderson (R-Zainesville) first introduced SB 310 back in March, the bill’s proponents have continually tried to paint themselves as unbiased, reasonable actors who are just working to defend the best interests of Ohio’s consumers.

They routinely emphasize the supposed uncertainty around the effects of the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards and point to an Energy Mandates Study Committee, which will analyze the standards during the two-year freeze and propose potential changes, as proof that they are reasonable actors who are standing up for ratepayers.

Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) told the Columbus Dispatch “What we want to do as a legislature is put procedures in place that are based on evidence and science.” He added, “We’ve spent $1.1 billion since 2009 on energy efficiency. … I’m not quite sure what we’ve gotten out of it.” The Study Committee is supposedly intended to solve this (non) issue.

Senator Frank LaRose (R-Akron) went so far as to claim that his work to “moderate” the bill provided that he was a true statesman.

And Governor John Kasich, who will ultimately decide whether Ohio continues to move forward or dives headlong into its coal-fired past, released a joint statement with Sen. Faber that read, “By temporarily holding at our current level while problems are ironed out, we keep the progress we’ve made, ensure we steadily grow new energy sources and preserve affordable energy prices for both businesses and consumers.”

So, given the centrality of this Study Committee to the GOP’s claims that they acting reasonably and in the best interest of Ohioans, you would think it would include experts on the issue and take a sober, neutral approach to its task. Yeah, not quite.

Here’s the actual text that creates the Energy Mandates Study Committee in SB 310 (emphasis is mine):

Section 3. It is the intent of the General Assembly to ensure that customers in Ohio have access to affordable energy. It is the intent of the General Assembly to incorporate as many forms of inexpensive, reliable energy sources in the state of Ohio as possible. It is also the intent of the General Assembly to get a better understanding of how energy mandates impact jobs and the economy in Ohio and to minimize government mandates. Because the energy mandates in current law may be unrealistic and unattainable, it is the intent of the General Assembly to review all energy resources as part of its efforts to address energy pricing issues.

Therefore, it is the intent of the General Assembly to enact legislation in the future, after taking into account the recommendations of the Energy Mandates Study Committee, that will reduce the mandates in sections 4928.64 and 4928.66 of the Revised Code and provide greater transparency to electric customers on the costs of future energy mandates, if there are to be any.

Setting aside the fact that the bill’s authors clearly don’t understand how to use the word “impact” correctly, the intent of this section is quite clear. The Ohio GOP wants us to believe they just plan to “study” the state’s clean energy standards to see if they can decipher their effects and, if necessary, make changes. But, as you can see, the writing is already on the wall.

SB 310 predetermines the outcome of the Study Committee, and it inevitably guarantees that the standards will be watered down heavily during the two-year freeze, if not killed entirely. The bill calls them “unrealistic and unattainable” and lays out the GOP’s intention to “minimize government mandates” and “reduce” them going forward. The goal is blatantly transparent.

We don’t need to continue spending hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on frivolous studies from partisan lawmakers. The evidence that Ohio’s clean energy standards are benefiting Ohioans is overwhelming. Researchers at Ohio State say so. The Public Utilities Commission says so. Hell, even the utilities say so!

There’s nothing fair or reasonable about SB 310, no matter how much its proponents bloviate. As Terry Smith said so well in Sunday’s edition of The Athens News,

Anyone familiar with the arguments of climate-change deniers will see some of their rhetorical flourishes in Balderson’s vague references to gimmicks and slogans gussied up with a gratuitous fealty to science. That’s their perverse way of casting doubt on the overwhelming global scientific consensus that climate change is happening now, is getting worse, and is mainly caused by human-kind’s burning of fossil fuels.

Plus, as critics of S.B. 310 have pointed out and the utilities themselves have admitted, money spent on energy-efficiency standards will recoup twice as much in savings.

If Ohio wants to continue sliding backward into the darkness, while its elected representatives happily collect rent from the fossil-fuel and electric utility industries, and their allies in the dark world of Koch, it makes perfect sense to double down on coal- and gas-fired electric power and flea-market-level severance taxes for oil and gas.

You almost wish the GOP leadership had the guts to come out and admit their true intentions. But they know that, if they did, Ohioans would revolt. So they hide behind their false facades of reasonableness and rationality so they can keep the money flowing from the fossil fuel industry. It’s worked up to this point, but you can only stem the tide of history for so long.

Conservative Ohio group uses push poll to attack clean energy, fails miserably

blue creek wind farm
blue creek wind farm

The Blue Creek Wind Farm in western Ohio (courtesy of Business Wire).

Over at Columbus Business First, energy reporter Tom Knox posted a piece yesterday afternoon titled “Business group poll says Ohio voters want energy efficiency mandates changed.” According to the post, a coalition of Ohio business groups conducted a poll of 800 registered Ohio voters, in which 72% of respondents indicated they wanted the state to revise the energy efficiency and renewable energy standards set by SB 221.

This poll seems extremely bewildering, particularly considering the fact that Ohioans have repeatedly expressed overwhelming support for the clean energy standards on multiple occasions. Just two weeks ago, an identical 72% of Ohioans stated just the opposite, indicating they support the standards in their current form and would oppose revising them.

Moreover, recent nationwide polls find similar results. In a Gallup poll, Americans preferred renewable energy to fossil fuels by a 2-to-1 margin, wanted the government to invest in ramping up renewable energy production 67% to 32%, and supported implementing mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions 63% to 35%. Another poll from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication validates this latter result, finding that Americans support forthcoming EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants by a nearly identical 64% to 35% mark.

So what’s going on here? Perhaps this is just another example of Americans not truly understanding policies or being inclined to support something when it’s phrased one way but not another? We know, for instance, that even as most Americans generally oppose Obamacare, they continually support the actual provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Then I actually looked into the details of the poll. It was conducted by a coalition of business and fossil fuel interests, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and Industrial Energy Users-Ohio. All of these groups have close ties to the fossil fuel industry, particularly FirstEnergy. The group, which is so fly by night that it doesn’t even have a website or bring up anything on Google, has chosen the particularly Orwellian name “Ohioans for Sustainable Jobs.” Apparently fossil fuel industry jobs are sustainable, but Ohio’s 25,000 clean energy jobs are not.

According to Knox’s post, here is the actual text of the question that garnered the headline result, a blatantly transparent example of push polling:

Six years ago, when the Ohio legislature passed the law mandating reductions in electricity consumed, certain assumptions were used to justify the law, many of which were wrong. For example, legislators assumed electricity would be in short supply and new electric generation would be expensive. But today, there’s ample low-cost electricity and will be for years to come. Knowing this … should the Ohio state legislature, taking into account the new information, go back and change the law?

If a college freshman tried to use that question in Statistics 101, s/he’s probably fail the class. The poll was also conducted by The Tarrance Group, a high-price DC polling firm, which brags it “is one of the most widely respected and successful Republican strategic research and polling firms in the nation.”

FirstEnergy and its friends can continue to shell out thousands of dollars to buy the poll results they want, but it won’t change the fact that the people of this state have, do, and will continue to support clean energy But all that coal money can, and has, bought much of Ohio’s legislature. The utility companies gave more than $1.3 million to legislators (PDF) from 2008-2013, and they expect something for their investment.

We need to keep the heat on our elected representatives in Columbus as they finish debate on SB 310. Otherwise, we risk letting their fossil fuel benefactors keep turning the heat up on our planet.

Update (4/30/2014 9:16am): Tom Knox provided me with the full press release and set of survey results. Taken in full, the poll seems a bit more credible than the one question would have it seem out of context. That said, there are still several methodological issues with it.

In the first question, where 56% of Ohioans seem to come out against SB 221, the question does not actually ask whether respondents oppose the law on its merits; it simply asks if they agree that “the government should mandate reductions in
electricity use by Ohio’s residential and businesses users.” That is exactly the type of wording that garners opposition to policies in the abstract, such as Obamacare.

Secondly, the poll continually asserts that Ohioans will pay more on their electricity bills – $45 this year – to meet the energy efficiency mandates. Nowhere does it mention the fact that customers can opt into rebate programs financed by these surcharges, nor does it mention the fact that energy efficiency programs have saved Ohio ratepayers more than $2 for every $1 invested, according to the electric utilities themselves. Moreover, Ohioans have already indicated (PDF), in multiple polls, that they are willing to pay more for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Fortunately, they don’t have to.

Thirdly, the poll asks two questions about whether or not ratepayers should have the option to opt out of paying the costs of the clean energy mandates. This is exactly the type of question that sounds wonderful in theory, but the Devil is in the details. Allowing ratepayers to opt out of paying into these programs would render them completely ineffective; it would be a de facto repeal in all but the name.

Enabling customers to take advantage of utility rebate programs without paying into them would allow them to become free riders, who would enjoy the benefits of energy efficiency (e.g. lower wholesale electricity costs) without having to bear any of the costs. It’s interesting how conservatives suddenly support subsidies and “picking winners and losers” when the winners are their industry friends. A voluntary opt-out provision would simply drive up the costs of compliance to the point where the programs were completely suspended. We know that the members of “Ohioans for Sustainable Jobs” would like to see SB 221 repealed in its entirety. But because that would never fly – see SB 58 – they want to hide behind semantics and do it under the cover of night instead.

I will continue to say this over and over and over and over again: Existing Ohio law requires all energy efficiency programs to save ratepayers more than they cost. If they do not pass this total resource cost test – which they have, by the way – the Public Utilities Commission is legally obligated to reject them.

The entire foundation of this poll is based on the phony premise that energy efficiency programs cost Ohioans more than they save. That’s completely unfounded, and, as a result, this poll is nothing more than a house of cards. The Supreme Court may claim that money equals speech, but it doesn’t enable you to buy your own facts.