House Speaker Jon Husted and his GOP caucus drafted a solid Ohio renewable- energy bill, but as the General Assembly’s research arm points out, it’s not without its potential pitfalls.
The truth, never denied but certainly understated, is that power from renewable sources probably will cost more, not less. Still, the environmental and health costs posed by conventional generating fuels could drop as renew- able-energy production rises.
Further, as this page has said before, Husted’s draft improves on earlier versions, including Gov. Ted Strickland’s original bill, in laying out specific yearly benchmarks for renewables. Also on the plus side, the House bill would give Ohio its first legal framework for sealing carbon dioxide in caverns, old mines or old gas or oil wells. Burning fuels generate carbon dioxide, which adds to global warming.
Husted said carbon dioxide “sequestration” is a key feature of a coal-to-liquids plant proposed for Columbiana County, along the Ohio River. Planned by Baard Energy L.L.C. of Washington state, the plant would convert 20,000 tons of coal a day into 35,000 barrels of jet and diesel fuel, and other chemicals, while sequestering 85 percent of the carbon dioxide produced.
The bill, however, would also give Baard (or possibly a contractor) the right of eminent domain to force the sale of land, including subsurface rights, for carbon dioxide storage and for easements and rights of way to pipe carbon dioxide to storage. That doesn’t sit well with a leading property-rights advocate, Sen. Timothy Grendell, a Chester Township Republican.
And within 10 years after carbon dioxide injection ended at a given facility, its ownership would transfer to Ohio’s taxpayers – along with any environmental liability. Though the bill requires storage operators to pay the state fees and provide financial guarantees, Ohio’s inglorious history of strip-mine regulation suggests taxpayers might be left holding the bag.
Another pitfall: The bill creates an Ohio Renewable Energy Authority, guaranteed $102.5 million in public money through mid-2018, possibly much more, through a complicated formula. The agency could spend up to 6 percent of its cash for “administrative purposes.” That’s a lot of paper clips.
The measure would also exempt Renewable Energy Authority money from the General Assembly’s budgeting power, removing a crucial Columbus check and balance. Husted said he’d be OK with subjecting the authority to General Assembly budgeting. That’s a good start – but just that. The renewables legislation still must be merged back into an overall energy reform package, portions of which are still being drafted, before the Ohio House acts. If left an orphan, the renewables bill is unlikely to earn support for passage.
23 March 2008
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