September 25, 2013

Velocity rises in wind-power debate

Jabin Botsford | The Columbus Dispatch | Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ohio has made a strong start in establishing a “green” economy, but leaders in the wind-energy industry say that future investment in such technologies would be jeopardized if the state eliminates a rule requiring utilities to buy a certain amount of in-state renewable energy.

The comments before an industry conference yesterday came just as Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, is about to release a wide-ranging energy proposal altering renewable-energy requirements. He hopes the General Assembly will pass the bill this year.

“You’re getting energy in Ohio, and you’re getting investment in Ohio,” said Rob Gramlich, senior vice president of public policy for the American Wind Energy Association. He and his group support keeping the requirements for purchase of Ohio-generated renewable energy.

His trade group held a conference Downtown yesterday. The event also drew protesters who say that wind energy is too expensive and overly dependent on government aid.

Ohio manufacturers are among the leading suppliers to the wind-energy industry, with 60 factories, the group said. In addition, Ohio has several utility-scale wind farms, the largest of which is Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert County, with capacity of 350 megawatts.

“The policies that the Ohio General Assembly have put in place are working,” said Eric Thumma, director of institutional relations for Iberdrola Renewables, the owner of Blue Creek.

He is referring to Senate Bill 221, which Seitz’s bill would change. Enacted in 2008, the law says that by 2025, utilities must get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable or advanced sources and must reduce customers’ electricity use by 22 percent with energy-efficiency upgrades.

Seitz’s bill would leave the 2025 benchmarks intact but change several other provisions.

Among them, he would do away with the stipulation that half of the required renewable energy come from in-state sources. He has said this is because of concerns that the in-state requirement is an unconstitutional limit on interstate commerce.

Wind industry officials said there is no good reason to remove the in-state requirement. They noted that several other states have similar rules that have not faced challenges in court, and there has been no legal challenge in Ohio.

If there is no requirement that utilities buy from within the state, then developers might pull back on projects that are in the planning stages, said a lobbyist for the group. This includes seven projects that have been approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board but have not yet begun construction.

Several dozen critics of wind energy picketed outside the hotel where the conference was being held. The protest was organized by Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, a Michigan-based group that opposes wind power.

“The overriding message is that wind electricity, contrary to popular belief, is not a replacement for fossil-fuel electricity,” said protester Tom Stacy, 50, who lives near Zanesfield in Logan County. “Our tax dollars end up paying so that Americans have higher electricity costs and be less competitive in the global economy. That’s insane.”

Actually I said something more like this: “The overriding message is that even though wind electricity can reduce a small amount of fossil fuel consumption, it cannot, due to its very low guaranteed continuous performance during peak electricity demand periods, replace any of the fossil fired plants which consume that fuel. This means wind electricity needs to compete with the cost of the fuel it saves – not with the cost of electricity from conventional sources, which includes the cost of the conventional plants themselves. Since that can never happen, wind necessarily makes Ohio and the US less competitive, costing far more jobs than the narrow wind manufacturing sector could ever hope to create. Using our tax dollars to support such a folly is insane.” – Tom Stacy

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