Attacks on Renewable Energy Standards Must be Met with a Unified Front

The Cincinnati Enquirer over the weekend ran an op-ed from 25x’25 leaders Bill Richards and Fred Yoder challenging Ohio Gov. John Kasich to reject legislation that would freeze, weaken – and maybe kill – a state renewable energy and energy efficiency standard that has worked well for five years. The op-ed is an undertaking that underscores the need for all renewable energy interests to stand unified against the growing ‑ if so far unsuccessful ‑ efforts to weaken and kill state and federal clean energy standards.

Richards and Yoder ask the question: Why is the Ohio legislature trying to “fix” something that isn’t broken? When the measure imposing a two-year freeze, which passed the House Wednesday, gets to the desk of Gov. John Kasich, the Ohio ag and renewable energy leaders say they would hope the governor would ask the same question.

When implemented in January 2009, the energy standard required utilities to secure a growing portion of their electricity supply each year from alternative energy resources, eventually reaching 25 percent of the electricity sold each year by 2025. At least 12.5 percent must be generated from renewable energy resources, including wind, hydro, biomass and at least 0.5 percent solar. The remainder is to come from “advanced” energy resources, including nuclear, “clean” coal and certain types of fuel cells.

The proponents of the freeze say it would give state leaders an opportunity to “study” the impact of the standard on electricity rates. The rationale is a smokescreen put up by conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity (AFP) to protect the fossil fuel interests of those who back them, including David and Charles Koch, who, with massive holdings in oil refineries and pipelines, are some of the richest men in the country. And utilities in the state who remain heavily reliant on coal and other fossil fuels, are pushing the freeze to protect their power monopolies will likely use any time the standard is inactive to work to kill it permanently.

The authors of the op-ed are lifelong agricultural producers – Yoder is a former president of the National Corn Growers Association – and come at the renewable energy cause primarily from the biomass sector. But as 25x’25 leaders, who believe our farms, ranches and forestlands can meet 25 percent of our nation’s energy with a wide variety of renewable resources, they understand the value of a united position in meeting the attacks and misinformation about clean energy standards being perpetuated by those would maintain a “business as usual” approach to meeting our energy needs.

It is critical that advocates from all sustainable energy technologies draw together to stand up against big-money fossil fuel interests, who would reverse the progress being made toward a clean energy future and, in fact, dismantle the fledgling renewable energy industry.

Ohio is just the latest among dozens of battlefields where the AFP and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization of conservative state legislators from around the country, have waged a war against state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS, also known as Renewable Energy Standards). Like that in place in the Buckeye State, these standards require utilities to obtain a specific percentage of the electricity they sell from renewable resources, like wind farms, solar facilities, biomass power generators, hydropower facilities and geothermal plants. Many, like the standard in Ohio, also call on utilities to meet increasing efficiency standards as a means of reducing the cost of electricity paid by consumers and cutting back reliance on fossil fuels.

Twenty-nine states have clean energy mandates (another seven have voluntary targets) that have worked successfully to benefit consumers. Yet AFP and ALEC, using flawed “studies” from “free market” think tanks like the Heartland Institute and the Beacon Hill Institute, have pushed model legislation to roll back the standards in at least 17 states, casting scary claims that the standards raise rates.

In Kansas, these forces that would keep consumers tethered to old-fashioned energy sources falsely argued that the RPS there would raise rates by 40 percent, only to have the Kansas Corporation Commission point out that the standard accounts for about 2 percent of a consumer’s electricity bill. (The effort to weaken the Kansas standard has failed two years in a row).

The Ohio freeze bill has the governor’s endorsement, but efforts continue to change his mind, urging him to reject this blatant attempt to kill forward-thinking energy policy. If Kasich signs the bill into law, Ohio will be the first state to reverse its course forward to a new, viable and cost-effective means to diversify its energy supply. The success of fossil fuel interests in Ohio will bolster renewed attacks in other states.

Ohio should serve as a warning to renewable energy stakeholders all across the country – be they from the biomass, biofuel, wind, solar, hydropower or geothermal sectors – to stand together and turn back the assault on progress offered by clean energy policies at the federal and state level.

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