GOP beware: Ohio overwhelmingly supports clean energy

ohio statehouse
ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the French say, précisément.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The benefits of going green for small businesses

The following is a post that I wrote as a guest blogger for greenmarketing.tv in July 2010.

Cross-posted from greenmarketing.tv:

For the majority of small businesses, the business case for sustainable and energy efficiency just isn’t strong enough to make any real investments. Most articles and analysis discuss how going green can help a business reduce its energy costs and improve its brand recognition and popularity. However, it can be difficult for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to sign off on projects that have projected payback periods of three years when they are concerned about having cash on hand three months now.

If one focuses entirely on these more obvious benefits of sustainability, it can make it difficult to believe that we will reach a tipping point on small business sustainability anytime soon. However, there are a number of added benefits to sustainability and energy efficiency that are often overlooked but that can help SMEs reap tangible, short-term dividends on their investments. These include improved productivity, a decrease in lost time to sick days, and being better equipped to recruit talented employees.

Several studies have shown that energy efficient upgrades and sustainable building practices can improve employee productivity significantly. According to a 2003 study from the Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon, taking steps to improve indoor air quality and installing energy efficient lighting both have strong positive effects on productivity. Enabling workers to control air temperature at their workstations increased their productivity anywhere from 3.5-36.6%. By installing high-efficiency lighting fixtures, businesses can experience a 3-13.2% increase in worker productivity. Taking advantage of natural light also has its benefits. The report notes that utilizing daylighting can improve productivity 3-18% and even increase sales by as much as 40%. Taken together, these numbers can represent a considerable advantage for any small business, especially considering that the EPA estimates that even a 1% increase in the productivity of office workers is enough to offset the costs of such upgrades.

A second major benefit of sustainability and energy efficiency comes from the added value of countering what is commonly known as Sick Building Syndrome.” Many businesses work in facilities that were not built in a sustainable manner. They have poor ventilation, lack access to natural light, and contain equipment and materials that release large amounts of volatile organic compound (VOCs). All of this can take a serious toll on the health and well being of employees, as indoor air quality leads to a number of health issues. Fortunately, green buildings go a long way towards mitigating these issues, providing businesses with considerable added value in the process. According to a 2009 article in the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate, green buildings produce an average financial benefit of $37-55 per square foot of facility space for businesses. This is due to the face that better indoor air quality improves productivity by 6-9% and reduces sick days by 2.88 days annually, per worker. The average value added to a business per worker is $6,432.

Third, sustainable businesses are better equipped to recruit the best employees. A recent study from Johnson Controls provides strong evidence that Generation Y is highly concerned about the environment and expects employers to become more sustainable. Ninety-six percent of Generation Y respondents said they want their employer to be environmentally friendly or at least environmentally aware, and large percentages — 47.4% and 47%, respectively — would like to see water saving features and solar panels on site. But it’s not just Gen Y workers who are increasing their commitment to sustainability in the workplace. The study noted that 98% of 26-35 year old respondents want their employers to be environmentally friendly or aware. This suggests that SMEs ignore sustainability at their own risk, particularly in this time of economic uncertainty.

I recognize that many SMEs still struggle to find a convincing argument to make the move towards sustainability. But going green is not some altruistic move that SMEs should make just because of personal beliefs or commitments — it is a smart business decision that will make them more competitive in the long run, one that they may not be able to afford to pass up.