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.

Minnesota’s DOT is ready for climate change. ODOT? Not so much.

duluth flood damage
duluth flood damage

Heavy damage to a road in Duluth, Minnesota following flooding from the Tischer Creek in June 2012 (courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio).

Climate change will have profound and diverse impacts upon infrastructure throughout the United States, including transportation infrastructure. Rising sea levels, stronger storm surges, more severe flooding, land subsidence, soil erosion, melting permafrost, and more frequent freeze-thaw cycles will all strain our already aging, deteriorating roads, bridges, and ports. The American Society of Civil Engineers has consistently given the country’s infrastructure a D or D+ on its annual report card since 1998, and the US slipped from fifth place in 2002 to 24th by 2011 in World Economic Forum’s transportation rankings. Throw in profound and unpredictable changes to the climate that facilitated the rise of human civilization, and you have a recipe for disaster.

It is for this reason that the President Obama’s administration has attempted to drag the federal government into the 21st century on climate change planning, despite considerable institutional inertia, not to mention stalwart opposition from Congressional Republicans and special interests. Just last week, the President issued an executive order requiring all federal agencies to include long-term sea level rise projections during the siting, design, and construction of federal projects. Planning for such changes and the threat of 100- and 500-year flood events, which will become drastically more frequent in a greenhouse world, will be of vital importance for the US Department of Transportation. Critical institutions are already at risk from near-term climate change. Parts of Oakland International Airport, for instance, could wind up under water during the daily high tide if sea levels rise just 16 inches.

But, given the complexity of our federal system of government and the aforementioned institutional inertia, the administration’s actions will take time to trickle down to the state and local level, where many of the daily decisions on transportation infrastructure construction and maintenance occur. While this fragmented structure has enabled some progressive state and municipal governments to take steps to combat climate change in the absence of meaningful legislation from Congress, it can also create a highly uneven system in which certain locales are far more inclined to incorporate climate change considerations in transportation planning. Given the fact that the roads, bridges, and ports we build today will likely still be in operation 30-50 years from now, each day that we delay increases our adaptation deficit – that is, the gap between our current level and an ideal level of adaptive capacity to a changing climate.

To demonstrate this uneven level of adaptation, consider the different approaches to climate change planning from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). This week, Minnesota Public Radio is featuring a series on climate change in the North Star State. An article this morning discussed how the state has adapted to more severe rainfall events in recent years.

In all three cases, whether officials say it in so many words or not, they are adapting their cities’ infrastructure to a changed climate, one that has been dumping more rain and bigger rains on Minnesota.

Warmer temperatures have an impact on infrastructure as well – more freeze-and-thaw cycles mean more potholes, for example. But because roads require relatively constant maintenance, road planners can adapt to a changing climate on the fly.

Not so with storm and wastewater systems, which are built to last as long as a century. That, say urban planners, is where the real challenge lies, and it is where some Minnesota cities have been focusing their efforts to adapt to climate change.

As the article notes, severe rain and flash floods have taken a drastic toll on infrastructure, including transportation systems, in recent years. Fortunately for Minnesotans, MnDOT has been leading the way in the effort to incorporate changing precipitation patterns and flood risks into planning. The agency recently completed an assessment of climate change risks to infrastructure in two districts, District 1 and District 6, which are located in the northeast and southeast portions of the state, respectively. In the introduction to the assessment, MnDOT writes,

Recognizing this, MnDOT planners and engineers have long considered minimizing the risk of flash flooding in the siting and design of the state’s roadway network. However, as has been the standard practice worldwide, they have traditionally assumed that future climate conditions will be similar to those recorded in the past. Climate change challenges this assumption and calls for new approaches to understanding vulnerabilities across the highway system and at specific transportation facilities so that appropriate actions, adaptations, can be taken to minimize expanding risks.

This project…represents a starting point for developing these new approaches. The focus of this pilot study is on flash flooding risks to the highway system. While flooding is not the only threat to the state’s highway system posed by climate change, it is likely to be one of the most significant and has already caused extensive disruptions to the transportation system in many areas.

If only Ohio had taken such a proactive approach to this issue. To be fair to ODOT, the agency does appear to be considering climate change in its planning process. There is a section devoted to the issue in Access Ohio 2040, the state’s long-term transportation planning vision. Perhaps strategically, the document refers to it as “climate variability” and completely bypasses the question of what is causing climate change. Now, the supplement to this section does touch on the fact that greenhouse gas emissions, including those from transportation, are driving the observed changes, though it does so somewhat halfheartedly. And then there’s the presentation on climate change infrastructure vulnerability that seems more focused on the potential benefits for the state from altering our extant climatic systems.

But, at least ODOT appears to have faced up to the issue. Access Ohio 40 calls for the state to complete a Statewide Climate Variability Study “within the next two years.” If the state meets this metric, the study should be finished by summer 2016, leaving the state roughly 18 months behind MnDOT. Now, I should note that, unlike ODOT, MnDOT’s assessment was one of 19 pilot projects funding by the Federal Highway Administration through its 2013-2014 Climate Change Resilience program. Then again, states, metropolitan planning organizations, and other entities had to actually apply to secure FHWA funding. I can find no evidence that Ohio bothered applying. Additionally, I have searched through the State of Ohio’s FY 2014-2015 transportation budget, and I find no evidence that the legislature has ponied up the $250,000-500,000 that ODOT stated it would need to complete its climate variability assessment. So I question whether Ohio is on track to finish the assessment by next summer.

And, even if ODOT has made some commitment to climate change adaptation at the strategic level – a highly dubious proposition – there is absolutely no evidence that this commitment has worked its way down to the project level. Consider the Opportunity Corridor, one of the largest projects currently being funded in the state. A handful of individuals and organizations submitted comments to ODOT’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the project, imploring the agency to take climate change into account. Here’s how ODOT responded in its Final EIS:

[I]t is analytically problematic to conduct a project level cumulative effects analysis of greenhouse gas emissions on a global-scale problem… Because of these concerns, CO2 emissions cannot be usefully evaluated in the same way as other vehicle emissions. The NEPA process is meant to concentrate on the analyses of issues that can be truly meaningful to the consideration of project alternatives, rather than simply “amassing” data. In the absence of a regional or national framework for considering the implications of a project-level greenhouse gas analysis, such an analysis would not inform project decision-making, while adding administrative burden.

In other words, we think your request is stupid and a waste of time, so nope.

ODOT does not operate in a vacuum. I’m sure there are a lot of good civil servants trying their best to meet the needs of Ohioans at the agency, but its direction is ultimately shaped by the elected officials in power in Columbus. Governor Kasich may at least pay lip service to climate change, but he has shown no inclination to actually act on the issue. Quite the contrary – he is responsible for signing SB 310 into law last June. Attorney General DeWine, for his part, is currently suing the EPA to stop its efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

And then there’s the GOP-dominated statehouse. The only reason Senator Bill Seitz will ever leave the legislature is through term limits, regardless of how many bombs he tosses about enviro-socialist rent seekers or the Bataan death march. And Senator Troy Balderson, the person who sponsored SB 310 and serves on the committee that regulates electric utilities, was blissfully unaware of the EPA’s plan to regulate coal-fired power plants a year after it was announced. It’s not exactly a shock that ODOT is a laggard here.

Those of us in Ohio who want an agency that is responsive to our desires to create an equitable, low-carbon, fiscally responsible transportation system need to keep pressuring ODOT, but we also need to win elections. Until then, our civil servants and public officials will keep their heads firmly lodged in the sand.

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.

Here’s the editorial on carbon emissions the PD should have written

coal plant carbon emissions

So The Plain Dealer is at it, once again, on climate change and carbon regulations. As I documented last June, when President Obama announced his plan to use his executive authority to curb power plant carbon emissions, the PD has a history of drafting inaccurate, lazy editorials on this subject. Surprise surprise, they’ve struck once more.

On Saturday, the paper posted a piece titled “The EPA’s overly ambitious carbon-reduction mandate is unacceptable as written.” Needless to say, the editorial rehashed the same tired, easily refuted, arguments that the EPA’s proposed rule on power plant carbon emissions will kill jobs, raise electricity costs, and drive investments out of Ohio.

The PD seems to hold some impressively incongruous views on climate change. They can call for action on the issue, writing that inaction would force us to “watch some of our most beloved and vital cities be eaten away like sand castles on the beach” and decry SB 310 as “obnoxious” and “an unacceptable bill,” all while criticizing anyone who tries to actually tackle the challenge as a radical. I imagine any other person might find it difficult to stand up straight given the vertigo that holding such contrary views would surely produce.

I took the liberty of rewriting the piece for the editorial board to make it more accurate and intellectually honest. Since that link expires at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 10 (the only draw back of shrturl), below you will find the original text of the piece, overlain with my changes. The original text that I’ve deleted is crossed out, and my additions are in red. Feel free to use any of these, PD editors.

The EPA’s overly ambitious carbon-reduction mandate is unacceptable as written: editorial

The EPA’s proposed carbon rule is an overdue step to tackle climate change: editorial

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a major step this week toward battling climate change by announcing a plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent nationally by 2030.

It’s an ambitious goal designed to reduce the country’s reliance on coal, boost the use of natural gas and renewable energy, improve plant efficiency and shrink consumer demand through conservation.

Climate change already poses serious risks of catastrophic ocean-level rises and other impacts both globally and domestically, ranging from of catastrophic sea level rise, to crushing heatwaves, to deadly floods. Policy actions to reduce the manmade carbon emissions causing global warming are long carbon emissions known to contribute to global warming are overdue. More than 97 percent of climate scientists and every major national academy of science agrees on this point.

Ohio needs to do more — far more — than it’s doing now to expand its energy portfolio, encourage energy conservation, support energy innovation and renewable-energy jobs and clean its air. The current legislative backsliding in Columbus on renewable-energy and energy-efficiency requirements is embarrassing and terribly shortsighted.

Nonetheless, the proposed EPA carbon rule as written is unacceptable.

It raises more unanswered questions and unpredictable scenarios than there are electrons on the grid. The lack of specifics about potential impacts on coal-reliant states such as Ohio is especially worrisome — as are the short time lines and large reductions involved. The obvious politics of the effort, driven by the White House, leaves it vulnerable to destructive political demagoguery in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible elimination by the next occupant of the White House.

At a minimum, the rule needs to be drastically revised before it’s finalized, to reduce the size of the mandate, extend the timeline and add safeguards to prevent devastating utility-bill increases in states with the greatest reliance on coal power.

Given these facts, the EPA’s proposed carbon regulations constitute an important, if ultimately inadequate, step to tackle the preeminent policy issue of our times.

The rule, as written, is highly flexible and takes into account the different energy mixes in each state. It provides significantly more leeway for states that rely heavily on coal for electricity production, like Ohio. The plan is part of President Obama’s attempt to tackle climate change before leaving office in January 2017, a commitment he made in his 2008 convention speech.

It would obviously be preferable for Congress to act on this issue by passing a national cap on carbon emissions, much like the 2009 cap and trade proposal that passed the House but floundered in the Senate. But, due largely to the rampant rise of the radical, climate change denying wing of the Republican Party, such talk is anathema on Capitol Hill.

The rule, which seeks to meet President Obama’s 2009 Copenhagen commitment to cut carbon emissions, puts the United States on the right path. Moreover, it has already begun to pay dividends at the international level, as China has committed to implement a national carbon cap by 2016. The rule may help foster the good will needed to secure a binding global agreement next fall in Paris.

The EPA says it In crafting the rule, the EPA applied a national formula to each state’s individual power profile to set target emission rates for “carbon intensity,” defined as the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt-hour of electricity generated by all types of fuel, be it fossil, nuclear or renewable. Each state can come up with its own plan for meeting the mandate.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis says Ohio’s 28 percent reduction goal by 2030 is The proposed rule sets Ohio’s 28 percent reduction goal by 2030, less than that of 31 other states. West Virginia and Kentucky, which is are even more coal-reliant than Ohio, has a target rate of 20 percent have targets of 20 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Steve Frenkel, Midwest director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says Ohio has already begun to chip away at its reliance on coal, and that meeting the mandate is not only doable but affordable because it will create a more efficient and sustainable energy system less subject to the price volatility of coal.

“It requires investment, there’s no question,” he said, “but we think that investment will pay dividends.”

Just how much investment remains to be seen, but it most surely will be substantial. He’s right. The investment may be substantial, but it will put Ohio on a path for more sustainable growth. Ohio’s net electricity generation in 2012, according to the federal Energy Information Agency, was nearly 130 million megawatt-hours. With nearly 70 percent of Ohio’s generation attributable The state currently gets 65 percent of its electricity from coal-fired plants, so a 28 percent reduction in the carbon emission rate, as foreseen in the EPA rule, would be equivalent to conserving, producing more efficiently or finding cleaner power sources for about 25 million megawatt-hours of electrical generation by 2030.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy likened any short-term national rate increase as a result of the mandate to the price of a gallon of milk per month, and said that by 2030, average rates should be down 8 percent.

That’s unlikely to be the case in Ohio. Moreover, it seems irresponsible to make such assertions when there are so many moving parts to take into consideration, and when state plans are at least two years from being finalized.

Fortunately, Ohio can cut its carbon emissions while lowering electric prices and creating jobs. From 2009-2012, Ohio reduced its electricity consumption by more than 5 million megawatt hours, even as the state created jobs, and energy efficiency lowered electric bills by 1.4%. According to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the proposed rules could be a boon for the state. The proposal has the potential to created 8,600 new jobs and cut the average household’s monthly electric bill by $6.80.

EPA will be soliciting more input on its draft plan over the next three months with all states required to submit complete or initial plans by June 30, 2016. Among the strategies that could be employed is a multistate market that allows pollution credits to be bought and sold. Among the strategies that could be employed is a multistate market that allows pollution credits to be bought and sold.

Climate change is a real concern that could have serious impacts, including in the Great Lakes region, whether by producing a larger number of violent storms that overload sewers and flood basements, contributing to the formation of dead zones in Lake Erie or nurturing the growth of toxic algal blooms.

It’s about time Ohio got serious about addressing carbon emissions and repositioned the state for the future energy and energy-innovation marketplace. The question is whether the EPA rule is the best or proper way to achieve those goals. If Ohio’s economy tanks because its electricity costs are three times those of Pennsylvania, Michigan or New York, there will be major economic and, likely, health impacts.

At a minimum, the rule should be significantly altered before it is finalized to lower the targets and protect against burdensome rate hikes in coal-reliant states.

All the evidence suggests it is. While opponents in the coal industry will claim that this plan will doom the economy and drive up energy costs, we’d be wise to ignore their claims. They have been wrong before – time after time – and they will be wrong yet again. This rule is an excellent first step in the right direction, but we must do more to ensure that we can prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Tackling this crisis is an imperative to protect not just to ourselves, but to the generations to come.

Ohio already has a compliance plan for the EPA’s carbon rules. It’s called SB 221.

epa carbon reduction goals by state
epa carbon reduction goals by state

Carbon reduction goals by state under the EPA’s proposed rule (courtesy of Business Insider).

As you’ve no doubt heard, President Obama took the most serious executive action in American history to tackle climate change on Monday. The US EPA unveiled its long-anticipated rule to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. The rule calls for a 30% reduction in carbon intensity within the electric power sector by 2030. The rule is extremely complex and lengthy (645 pages, to be exact), but the details are starting to emerge.

Like the Affordable Care Act, the EPA’s proposed rule is highly flexible and will be implemented at the state level. Cognizant that states have different fuel makeups within the electric sector, the EPA set carbon reduction targets for each state, ranging from just 10.6% in North Dakota to 71.8% in Washington. The rule also provides states with tremendous flexibility in how they can reduce carbon emissions, listing a bevy of different options, including:

  1. Improving fossil fuel plant efficiency
  2. Switching from coal to natural gas for electric generation
  3. Ramping up electricity production from renewable energy
  4. Investing in end user energy efficiency
  5. Adopting a cap-and-trade system or join an existing program, like the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)

This rule is far from being finalized. It still needs to go through a public comment period, an implementation phase, and – no doubt – a lengthy battle in the courts. That said, it is already starting to reap potential dividends. Yesterday, Chinese officials announced that they may include a carbon cap in its next Five Year Plan, which begins in 2016. The Chinese have are already experimenting with pilot cap and trade systems in seven cities, though the experiment has not been a rousing success.

How will this rule affect Ohio?

Understanding that it will be more difficult for some states – namely, the most coal-dependent ones – to reduce their electric power emissions, the EPA set more lenient emissions reductions standards for these states. Ohio, which gets 65% of its electricity from coal and emits more CO2 than all but three other states, is required to reduce its carbon emissions from 1,850 tons per megawatt (MW) of energy to 1,338 tons per MW (see page 30 of PDF) by 2030. That represents a 27.7% reduction, slightly under the overall 30% standard nationwide.

Predictably, lawmakers in Columbus have already started their posturing over the issue. More than a week before EPA even announced the rule, a bipartisan group of coal boosters in the Statehouse introduced House Bill 506, which requires the Ohio EPA to establish rules that dictate how the state will implement the regulation. The bill, which passed unanimously out of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, is intended to shield Ohio’s coal industry. According to Gongwer (subscription required):

[Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire] said the bill looks to continue Ohio’s energy supply portfolio that relies heavily on coal-fired generation. He said the industry has a significant impact in his district, and the use of coal is vital to the region’s economic security….

[Rep. Andy Thompson (R-Marietta)] said he is looking to make sure Ohio continues to have affordable, reliable power supplies based on reasonable policies. He said the bill allows the state agency to consider each power generating unit, and how changes would impact local communities. If done properly, the state policy could prevent the retirement of older coal-fired plants.

Mr. Cera said a rush to meet federal requirements could be detrimental to families by increasing energy costs and eliminating jobs. He said further reduction of coal-fired power facilities could bring the state and region closer to having inadequate power supplies. Mr. Cera added that while technology is advancing, additional time may be needed to get enhanced controls in place.

Mr. Thompson told Rep. Tony Burkley (R-Paulding) there is a place for a mix of power sources, but said it is essential that the state has a baseload source that is available at all times.

“Coal is there,” he said. “Coal is on site. There is no delay.”

Craig Butler, the Director of the Ohio EPA, who would be tasked with developing the compliance plan, has decried the proposed regulations as “unnecessary federal mandates.” He has also sworn to “preserve as much existing coal-fired electric generation” as possible.

Because nothing makes sense any more, FirstEnergy has actually downplayed the rule and made it seem like it’s happy to comply. CEO Tony Alexander, who last made news for bashing the same EPA over its nonexistent “war on coal,” told the New York Times he supports cap and trade, saying,

By trading on carbon credits, we’ll be able to achieve significantly more cuts at a lower cost. The broader the options, the better off we’re going to be.

VP Ray Evans even told the AP that the company was “generally pleased by the overall direction of the federal plan.”

Now, under normal circumstances, if FirstEnergy approved of an environmental regulation and felt it could comply with it easily, I’d be freaking out over how lax the rule was. And I do have some concerns about the plan, namely the decision to make the baseline year 2005, which is when carbon emissions reached their peak in the US. I would be much happier with 2012 as the baseline, as emissions fell 16% during that seven-year span. This would make the rule far more ambitious and beneficial. As it currently stands, the rule would only lead to a 17% reduction from 2012 emission levels, not the 30% headline number we are all seeing (which is relative to 2005).**

But I digress. What I really want to emphasize here that the executives at FirstEnergy are apparently more progressive on environmental regulations than the head of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Let that one sink in for a minute.

SB 221 and the carbon rule

So how should Ohio go about meeting this new rule? What should the state’s compliance plan look like? Well, it’s first important to note that, in addition to the 2030 goal, the EPA’s rule also includes an interim reduction target for states to achieve by 2025; for Ohio, this involves a reduction to 1,452 tons per MW. This amounts to a 21.5% decrease by 2025. So Ohio roughly needs to reduce its carbon emissions from the electric power sector by 22% by 2025.

Wait, 22.2% by 2025 – where have I heard that number before? Oh, right, that’s the standard for energy efficiency set by SB 221 back in 2008. Under those standards, Ohio’s four investor-owned utilities need to reduce the amount of electricity that their customers use by 22.2% through 2025, against a 2006-2008 annualized baseline. The similarities are startling.

sb 221 energy efficiency benchmarks

Annual energy efficiency benchmarks for Ohio’s investor-owned utilities, as specified by SB221 (courtesy of Mark Rabkin).

Now, you may note that carbon emissions and energy efficiency are not the same thing. And you’d be right.

But, under the EPA’s proposed plan, states that choose to invest in energy efficiency would need to improve demand-side energy efficiency by 1.5% per year from 2020-2030. Conveniently, SB 221 requires the state to improve its energy efficiency by 2% per year from 2020-2025, allowing it to meet and even exceed that standard. And while 22.2% savings still comes up short of the 27.7% mark required by 2030, the state would be well on its way to meeting this standard, and it could make up the rest of the gap by continuing to implement its existing renewable portfolio standard, which also exists due to SB 221.

In other words, Ohio already has compliance plan in place. The state passed it, nearly unanimously, six years ago. But, thanks to the legislature, we are just one signature away from derailing these standards.

SB 310 and Ohio’s compliance plan

SB 310 will leave Ohio in a precarious situation. The freeze would last until December 31, 2016, six months after the date that EPA has set for states to submit their compliance plans*. The state could sue over the rule, which may affect that date – Mike DeWine has already shown a predilection to waste taxpayer resources over the latest right wing cause du jour – but I feel pretty confident the courts will uphold the regulation.

So, where will Ohio find itself as the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2017? Will it implement weakened energy standards, as SB 310 makes clear the legislature plans to do, or will it allow SB 221 to come back into force? Will it put together a satisfactory compliance plan, or will the US EPA have to step in and take over?

Surely, the legislators behind SB 310 considered these questions when crafting the law. Not quite. According to Tom Knox at Columbus Business First,

Rep. Sandra Williams of Cleveland, the ranking Democrat, asked him how the freeze would impact the state’s ability to meet new regulations to limit coal-plant carbon dioxide emissions. Balderson said he was unaware of the rules but didn’t think they would impact his bill.

That’s right. An elected official who sits on the Senate Public Utilities Committee and introduces a bill as significant as SB 310 openly admitted that he was “unaware” of forthcoming EPA standards that anyone with a passing knowledge of Google could have found out about. Did he miss the massive speech that President Obama gave last summer when he announced these rules? It wasn’t exactly a secret.

The climate change imperative in policy making

That’s what makes things like SB 310 or Cuyahoga County’s decision to sign a 20-year deal to get coal-fired power from from  Cleveland Thermal so mind boggling. Policy making doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Obviously uncertainty always exists, and it’s sometimes necessary to make simplifying assumptions and leave out exogenous factors. But the preeminent policy challenge of our times is not just one of those things you can ignore. Pretending science doesn’t exist won’t make it so.

A changing climate is not just one of many factors at play. It is a baseline factor that directly and indirectly influences everything else. From insurance markets to credit worthiness, from allergies to vector-borne diseases, from human and economic development to violence and conflict, climate change is always a factor in play. While it would be nice to pretend otherwise, it’s no longer an option available to us.

Even if you reject the overwhelming scientific consensus on this issue, it makes sense to assume it’s true. Because consider the risks if your wrong. What if that expensive new bridge or road your state just built was only designed to withstand one foot of sea level rise? Or what if a farmer invested his or her life savings in a crop that can’t survive the megadrought happening in the West?

Every single policy decision we make now, regardless how mundane or seemingly unrelated, must have climate change embedded in it. It may be convenient to pretend this one local project can’t possibly have any bearing on such a global issue – I’m looking at you, ODOT – but we cannot afford that luxury.

So the people in charge in Columbus can – and, I’m quite sure, will – continue to ignore what I’ve just said, because they have a clear profit motive to do so. But if there is one thing that these new carbon rules make clear, it’s that the day of reckoning on issue is coming, and it’s a lot closer than some people may like.

Ohio has 30 months to decide whether or not it will act on climate change or whether it will cling to the status quo. Because, whether or not Columbus likes it, the EPA has supremacy on this issue, and it has the law in its side.

So what does this all mean?

Oh, I guess you were expecting me to actually go somewhere with this. Okay then.

Ohio’s best option is for John Kasich to veto SB 310 and call on lawmakers to not only protect the state’s clean energy standards, but actually discuss ways to strengthen them through 2030. But seeing as I’m not the benevolent dictator of this state (but seriously, I’d be ever so benevolent…), and the Governor has made it clear he will sign SB 310, that leaves us searching for alternatives.

Given the options available, our next best choice is to ensure that Ed Fitzgerald and David Pepper get elected as Governor and Attorney General this fall. That would empower Governor Fitzgerald to veto any GOP-led plan to weaken the standards that may emerge during the freeze and ensure that Attorney General Pepper does not foolishly sue the EPA over the carbon rules. That may seem like a long shot at this point, but the alternative is far, far worse.

Ohio is poised to meet the EPA’s carbon rules while creating jobs, cleaning its air, and creating thousands of good jobs. Or we can throw all of that out the window to gamble that the GOP-led legislature can somehow come up with a law that is better equipped to do all of this than SB 221. Don’t hold your breath.

Update (6/4/2014 3:31 p.m.): I originally thought the EPA was requiring states to submit their compliance plans by December 31, 2016, the same date as the end of the proposed freeze. The actual date is June 30, 2016; I have updated the post to reflect this change.
Update 2 (3:44 p.m.): Brad Plumer just pointed me to a post from Resources for the Future, which argues that everything people have been saying about the 2005 baseline is incorrect. Apparently EPA was only using 2005 as the headline year, because President Obama’s commitment to reduce US emissions by 17% at the Copenhagen Conference uses 2005 as its reference point. But, in reality, all of the EPA targets for state carbon reductions are based on 2012 numbers, meaning that this rule really does represent a strong emissions reduction standard. Look for cheers from fellow environmentalists and cries of impending economic doom from fossil fuel boosters.

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.