Go green, cautiously

Public officials cannot issue blank checks to companies simply because they’re promoted as green


Green energy is an im­por­tant part of Amer­ica’s eco­nomic re­cov­ery, but it’s no pan­a­cea. Busi­nesses that man­u­fac­ture and de­velop so­lar, wind, bio­mass, and other al­ter­na­tive power should avoid the kind of ex­ag­ger­ated claims other en­ergy sec­tors have made.

There has been a mix of wins and losses for green en­ergy, in­clud­ing trou­bled com­pa­nies such as Per­rys­burg-based Wil­lard & Kel­sey and, on a na­tional level, Solyn­dra. These mis­steps, how­ever, should not in­dict a fledg­ling in­dus­try that has great prom­ise.

Ohio has be­come one of the na­tion’s lead­ers in clean-en­ergy jobs, with north­west Ohio lead­ing the way. Even so, pub­lic of­fi­cials can­not is­sue blank checks to up­start com­pa­nies sim­ply be­cause they’re pro­moted as green.

Four of 10 Ohio clean-en­ergy com­pa­nies or proj­ects that got tax­payer-funded loans as seed money have failed to re­pay the state, or failed to ful­fill agree­ments such as re­port­ing dead­lines. The fault lies with those busi­nesses, but the Ohio Air Qual­ity Devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, which is­sued the loans, must do a bet­ter job of eval­u­at­ing pro­pos­als.

Every busi­ness must cope with dif­fer­ent chal­lenges. Solar man­u­fac­tur­ers faced a flood­ing of the U.S. mar­ket by cheap Chi­nese prod­ucts. The Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­cently took ac­tion to level that play­ing field by im­pos­ing stiffer tar­iffs.

Con­gress is hold­ing the wind in­dus­try hos­tage by not re­new­ing a pro­duc­tion tax credit that wind man­u­fac­tur­ers and de­vel­op­ers need. Al­most ev­ery en­ergy in­dus­try — green or oth­er­wise — has re­lied on sub­si­dies.

Green en­ergy has many ad­van­tages, but it’s not al­ways the best op­tion. Most Lenawee County res­i­dents de­cided that wind power isn’t com­pat­i­ble with their vi­sion of an idyl­lic coun­try­side.

Any proj­ect that would place com­mer­cial-scale wind tur­bines along the Lake Erie shore­line, es­pe­cially near north­west Ohio’s world-re­nowned bird­ing sanc­tu­ar­ies, must pro­ceed with sen­si­tiv­ity. That warn­ing goes well be­yond the Ohio Na­tional Guard’s pro­posed wind tur­bine at Camp Perry, even when the pro­posed tur­bines are smaller than in­dus­trial be­he­moths.

The state should con­sider a pro­posal from bird­ers to ban tur­bines within three miles of the Lake Erie shore­line. This re­gion can­not af­ford the de­struc­tion that oc­curred at north­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Al­ta­monte Pass, the na­tion’s poster child for bad plan­ning and tur­bine-re­lated rap­tor deaths.

Green en­ergy has a bright fu­ture, es­pe­cially in Ohio, but only if it’s done right.