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Published: 6/15/2010

To curb Ohio's costly coal bill, fix U.S. energy policy

BY JEFF DEYETTE AND ALAN FRASZ

When you turn on your coffee pot in the morning, the power likely comes from coal, which generates 85 percent of the electricity in Ohio. According to a new report, three-quarters of that coal comes from elsewhere, even though Ohio is home to several mines.

Importing coal to produce electricity is a drain on Ohio's economy. Ratepayer dollars are diverted out of state, instead of being spent locally on renewable-energy projects and energy-efficiency measures that can provide the same electricity service while directly benefiting residents and creating jobs.

The report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, "Burning Coal, Burning Cash," ranks states that are net importers of domestic and foreign coal. Ohio is one of 38 states that depend on imported coal. The state spent $1.5 billion on net coal imports in 2008, making it the fifth most dependent state.

First Energy's Bay Shore plant in Oregon imported all of its coal, shelling out $64 million mostly to Wyoming. Most domestic coal comes from Wyoming, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Some states import coal from overseas, as far away as Colombia and Indonesia.

It doesn't have to be that way. Ohio has significant wind, biomass, and solar-power resources, and we've only started tapping into that potential. Three large-scale wind projects recently approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board will supply Ohio with nearly 500 megawatts of local renewable electricity, enough to power about 200,000 typical households.

Locally, companies such as Dovetail Solar and Wind are installing photovoltaic arrays on the roofs of homes and businesses in Toledo and across Ohio. More such projects would help replace imported, coal-fired power and boost the local economy.

Ohio is well positioned to manufacture the technology to harness clean energy. We have a skilled labor force and manufacturing infrastructure in place to produce the nuts and bolts and all other components that go into wind turbines, solar panels, and biomass systems. These products could convert our local resources into electricity, and could be exported to other states and countries.

Perrysburg is home to First Solar, a global leader in solar, thin-film technology. It employs more than 1,000 people at its manufacturing plant. Hundreds of other Ohio-based companies are participating in the clean-energy supply chain or are ready to do so.

Energy efficiency programs are another cost-effective way to reduce Ohio's dependence on imported coal and create jobs that cannot be exported. Investments in super-efficient appliances and better insulation and windows for buildings are affordable, practical, and fast ways to cut utility bills, reduce pollution, and limit demand for power.

Yet despite energy efficiency's proven benefits, about 50 times less was spent on ratepayer-funded electric-efficiency programs per resident than on imported coal in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available. That imbalance should improve now that Ohio has an energy-efficiency resource standard that requires utilities to cut power demand by an average of 1.3 percent a year through 2025.

In addition to adopting that standard, Ohio recently required utilities to increase their use of renewable energy from less than 1 percent today to at least 12.5 percent by 2025. Getting a jump on this requirement will provide a much-needed boost to our struggling economy.

Our congressional delegation could do a lot to help Ohio keep more energy dollars in the state. Legislation before Congress would reduce pollution and require more renewable-energy and efficiency measures nationwide. A truly effective bill would place a limit and a price on the pollution that causes global warming, so wind and other renewable-energy sources would get a level playing field with fossil-fuel energy sources such as coal. It also would require utilities to generate increasing amounts of renewable energy. Leadership in Washington would help expand the opportunities for Ohio companies to compete in the global clean-energy race.

Our energy system is not as clean, efficient, or cost-effective as it should and could be. It's time we start to power our state in a way that protects our economy and our environment. A federal bill that makes energy reform a priority is key.

Jeff Deyette is assistant director of energy research and analysis in the Union of Concerned Scientists' climate and energy program. Alan Frasz is vice president of Dovetail Solar and Wind in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.



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