One simmering concern about the oil and gas boom coming to Ohio involves the potential impact on other elements of a state energy strategy. The tapping of shale formations holds much promise, starting with jobs and a cleaner source of energy. Still, all of the activity shouldn’t be allowed to divert attention from other key components, especially the commitment the state rightly has made to improved energy efficiency and alternative energy sources.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last week that doubts surfaced at the Northern Ohio Energy Management Conference in Akron about the value of the efficiency and renewable standards established by the legislature a few years ago. State law requires that by 2025 power companies generate 25 percent of their electricity from advanced or renewable energy. Much of the criticism centered on the altered energy landscape, the presence of cheaper natural gas and a struggling economy.
The alternative energy industry has sagged of late, though the longer trend line deserves emphasis, the cost having declined sharply. The rough patch includes the looming expiration of the federal tax credit that has made wind power more competitive. The hope is, Congress will renew the credit by year’s end. For now, it is a matter of contention in the election campaign. President Obama favors renewal. Mitt Romney is opposed.
In 2008, Ohio Republicans and Democrats set the standards as part of encouraging the alternative energy industry here, not to mention help in dealing with the impact of greenhouse gases on the climate. When Gov. John Kasich convened his energy summit, leading to an energy plan for the state, he made a place for alternative sources.
The objective of the standards is to provide something of a foundation for wind, solar and other alternatives, the state playing to its manufacturing strength. Those who point with disdain to the tax credits and other subsidies overlook that other energy sectors have received similar support, and still do. Federal money, especially via research, gave hydraulic fracturing a crucial boost.
To the criticism that the subsidies amount to the government picking winners and losers, does anyone doubt the need for cleaner and more efficient sources of energy, from wind and solar to abundant coal? Note that other states are moving forward in this area, and so are other countries, many far ahead, looking to invest and grow. State policymakers must keep asking: Where should Ohio be in terms of energy in the next decade and beyond?
The argument isn’t that state lawmakers erected standards so sound they never should be adjusted. If circumstances merit changes to serve the larger goal, the state should push ahead. What would be shortsighted is eroding, let alone abandoning, the efficiency and renewable standards. Ohio made the right choice. Now isn’t the time to back away from devoting resources and talent to a path that promises economic and environmental benefit.