Given the urgency of acting on climate change, we have to take advantage of every opportunity to change how we produce and consume energy. Each decision we make, positive and negative, will reverberate through the remainder of our lives and the lives of those who come after us.
Last year, the Ohio Legislature was presented with one of those opportunities, and it failed. Lawmakers decided, when they enacted House Bill 6 (HB 6), to keep Ohio tethered to polluting and dangerous fuels rather than embrace a cleaner energy future.
At the time, some clean energy advocates called HB 6 “the worst energy bill in the country.” It forced ratepayers to spend billions of dollars bailing out polluting industries, rolled back energy efficiency programs, and halted the effort to grow clean energy by weakening the renewable energy standard in the Buckeye state.
But now, because of a massive bribery scandal at the heart of HB 6’s passage, Ohio has a chance at a do-over. A recent FBI investigation found that utility companies, who stood to directly profit from HB 6, had bribed Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder to get him to throw his weight behind the bill. Speaker Householder is now in hot water. And meanwhile, Gov. Mike DeWine has called for HB 6 to be repealed.
Revisiting the choice between dirty energy and renewables
All of this made me wonder: What if instead of spending their time passing HB 6 last year, lawmakers had taken the opportunity to unshackle themselves from the polluting fuels of the past. What if they decided instead to tap into the clean, abundant energy from the sun and wind that modern technology allows us to access more efficiently, and affordably, than ever before? Where might we be today?
Option 1: What if they had invested in solar?
What if, instead of bailing out aging nuclear and coal plants, Ohio lawmakers had chosen to support rooftop solar. What would have happened?
A solar home in Stow, Ohio. Photo credit: Mike Harvan
Of all the clean energy technologies, solar is the most popular. More than nine out of 10 Americans favor expanding solar power and nearly half of American homeowners have seriously thought about putting solar panels on their home in the past year, according to a 2019 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Rooftop solar also has the technical benefits of reducing “leakage” in our electrical system. Because the power is produced so close to where it is consumed (i.e., on the roof of your home), power isn’t needlessly wasted as it moves through transmission lines. When it comes to building a resilient distributed electric system, rooftop solar will play an important role.
According to my calculations: Ohio could have installed more than 65,000 residential solar systems if the bailout and bribery money that went to buying corrupt politicians and bailing out old nuclear and coal plants had been directed to rooftop solar.
The capacity of these residential systems alone would nearly triple the total current solar capacity of the entire state.
Option 2: What if they had invested in wind?
What if, instead of bailing out aging nuclear and coal plants, Ohio lawmakers had chosen to support the installation of wind turbines in strategic locations across Ohio?
The Blue Creek Wind Farm in Paulding and Van Wert Counties, Ohio. Photo credit: Nyttend/Wikimedia
What I found: Ohio could get two-thirds of the energy from wind that it currently gets from the 50-year-old Davis Besse nuclear station if the bailout and bribery money that went to buying corrupt politicians and bailing out old nuclear and coal plants had been directed to harnessing wind energy.
Choosing the 100% renewable path
Solar and wind are the two clean energy posterchildren. But they aren’t the only clean and renewable technologies Ohio can and should invest in. Lawmakers should support funding programs to bring energy efficiency improvements and weatherization to homes. Reducing energy waste in the first place is the cheapest and fastest way to solve our energy challenges, which is why efficiency is often called ‘the first fuel’. Larger scale utility solar projects are worth a look too, because they are cheaper than individual rooftop systems. Battery storage is also making great headway, especially when also coupled with rooftop solar. The state of Ohio could incentivize each of these technologies to move toward a future of electric buildings that power themselves.
The truth is that there are many many ways to reach an energy future that has a vanishingly small impact on the planet and the climate. At this point, neither the technology nor the cost are our greatest hurdle. Politics are.
As Ohio revisits the disastrous process that led to disastrous policy, I hope lawmakers seize the opportunity to scrap HB 6, and point the Buckeye State toward the clean energy future the state and the nation need. I’ve laid out some ideas here, it’s time to act.
Header photo: The Sammis coal plant in Stratton, Ohio had been slated for closure, until legislative action fueled by bribes resuscitated it last year. Photo credit: FirstEnergy
Senior Director, Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy, Environment America Research & Policy Center
Johanna directs strategy and staff for Environment America's energy campaigns at the local, state and national level. In her prior positions, she led the campaign to ban smoking in all Maryland workplaces, helped stop the construction of a new nuclear reactor on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and helped build the support necessary to pass the EmPOWER Maryland Act, which set a goal of reducing the state’s per capita electricity use by 15 percent. She also currently serves on the board of Community Action Works. Johanna lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her family, where she enjoys growing dahlias, biking and the occasional game of goaltimate.