Toledo can lead on energy

8/28/2011
BY ROB PORTMAN

The national debate on energy policy and jobs too often breaks down to partisan politics and accusatory rhetoric. The choice given Americans is between onerous new regulations that will cost thousands of jobs and an approach that ignores environmental concerns.

But with unemployment nationally over 9 percent, and with northwest Ohio facing even higher jobless rates, we need to move past the rhetoric and politics and get to work. We need to produce more energy by U.S. sources and use less energy.

By doing so, we can break our dangerous dependence on foreign sources of energy and create jobs in America. Using more of our own energy includes gaining access to new discoveries of natural gas and oil in Ohio, which will create jobs here.

At the same time, we should focus on better energy conservation, to make our economy more efficient and competitive. That’s why I have been working with senators on both sides of the aisle to promote sensible energy-efficiency strategies.

The result of this work is the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, which I cosponsored with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.). This measure would benefit our economy by increasing productivity and creating jobs through the greater use of energy-efficient technologies in residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.

The Toledo region already plays a major role in energy efficiency. It would play a bigger role under this legislation.

Workers in Owens Corning’s world-class facility would benefit. They are developing and manufacturing insulation technologies that will help reduce energy consumption in buildings, which consume 74 percent of our nation’s electricity.

Perrysburg’s Owens-Illinois plant would benefit from incentives to create more efficient and competitive manufacturing. Groups such as the Alliance to Save Energy support this legislation, because they know it will help American consumers and businesses that are struggling with rising energy costs.

This year, I held a roundtable discussion at the University of Toledo and toured the innovation and commercialization facility at UT’s Wright Center for Photovoltaics. At the center, scientists test solar cell materials used to produce panels that convert sunlight to electricity.

Through such research, alternative energy sources are becoming more affordable. This allows market forces to move our nation toward energy efficiency — a goal at the core of our legislation.

The measure also would provide incentives for building-efficiency upgrades by expanding the U.S. Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program for businesses. This provision will help manufacturers reduce energy use by establishing a revolving loan program for efficiency upgrades.

The bill also will strengthen national energy-efficient building codes. It will require the federal government — the largest energy user in the country — to adopt energy-saving techniques, saving millions of taxpayer dollars.

The legislation would boost Toledo’s growing leadership in green industries and initiatives. The opportunities that could emerge would complement the efforts of existing companies in the region’s rapidly maturing solar industry.

These include Xunlight Corp., whose innovative solar panel technologies are powering the first totally solar-powered billboard in New York’s Times Square. The solar panel company Isofoton recently announced it will open a $32 million facility in Henry County next year; it could create more than 300 jobs over four years.

By focusing on responsible energy initiatives that promote job growth and cost savings, the free market will lead us naturally into a future that is environmentally responsible and beneficial to businesses and consumers alike.

Instead of trying to force unwanted choices on an unwilling public, the legislation I propose will make energy efficiency a prosperous option for Americans — benefiting our environment and the Toledo economy.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R.,Ohio) is a member of the congressional “super-committee” on the federal budget.