In Measure Overhauling Energy Policy, Ohio Pivots Away From Green Energy

Sep 10, 2019
Originally published on September 10, 2019 9:23 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Working to support wind and solar has become almost standard in states nationwide. Some are even phasing out coal but not Ohio. It recently passed a law doubling down on subsidies for power plants. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

ANDY CHOW, BYLINE: The new law adds hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies for coal. And while it does add $20 million for existing solar farms, it rolls back renewable energy requirements and even scraps the energy efficiency program. It also doles out $150 million in subsidies to keep open two nuclear plants that had been scheduled to close. Opposition to the legislation formed some strange partnerships. Natural gas companies, environmental advocates and conservative activists all fought on the same side against what they saw as an unnecessary bailout for power plants, plants like this one, the Kyger Creek coal plant, which sits along the Ohio River. Workers were eager to talk about the critical role it plays in the region. Chad Burton says, for his family, it means everything.

CHAD BURTON: My grandfather actually worked here for 36 years. You know, it's put food on my table since 1950s.

CHOW: The new measure ensures that Kyger Creek stays open for at least the next six years.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

CHOW: But if you drive just 30 miles north to Athens, workers at another company have their own stories to tell.

ROBERTA WASHBURN: So when we get new contracts in or we want to make a celebration here in the office, we'll come up and we'll ring this bell.

CHOW: Roberta Washburn runs Third Sun Solar and says her company is proof that Appalachia can be more than just coal. She is discouraged by Ohio's pivot away from green energy.

WASHBURN: Other states are positioning themselves for a future while Ohio seems to be holding on to a dying part of the past. We need to create an environment for our future generations and by using renewable energy.

CASEY WEINSTEIN: I really think it puts Ohio in exactly the wrong direction.

CHOW: That's Democratic State Representative Casey Weinstein, who argues that this drastic shift hurts both Ohio's fight against climate change and its future job creation hopes.

WEINSTEIN: The new law sends a signal to businesses that we don't want you here. That's the impression that we are giving them.

CHOW: But for Republican State Representative Bill Seitz, the cost of continuing the green energy requirements, especially the efficiency mandates, were too high. Seitz argues that mandates like those are less effective than the subsidies he voted for.

BILL SEITZ: We have mandated in the past that utilities must make their electricity with this particular kind of fuel. I think that's stupid.

CHOW: Seitz defends coal as a measure to support grid diversity and reliability. Other supporters say saving nuclear would mean saving Ohio's largest source of non-carbon-emitting energy, and some environmental advocates agree. Ratepayers will see reduced charges because of rolled back investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. But they'll see increased fees to support those nuclear and coal subsidies. The average monthly bill will end up dropping by about $2 a month.

Supporters of green energy policies call that shortsighted and a bad investment. Other states are deciding to put more money toward green energy and innovation. But the debate in Ohio is not over yet. A citizens group is trying to take their law directly to voters and put a referendum on next year's ballot. Their message is clear - no bailouts for power plants.

For NPR News, I'm Andy Chow in Columbus.

(SOUNDBITE OF OH HIROSHIMA'S "HOLDING RIVERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.