Thursday, Jul 28, 2016
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Opinion

FirstEnergy’s letter wrong to send, wrong on the facts

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Colm

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If you're a customer of FirstEnergy, the utility may recently have sent you a letter that encouraged you to tell your elected leaders to end Ohio’s renewable portfolio standard and energy efficiency standards. The letter is wrong on two counts.

FirstEnergy should not be using ratepayers’ money to lobby them on political issues. And Ohio’s energy and efficiency standards have lowered the cost of energy for homeowners and businesses, rather than threaten them with higher rates, as the utility claims.

The renewable portfolio standard requires Ohio utilities, including FirstEnergy, to obtain a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar energy. The energy efficiency standards require utilities to help customers use less electricity, so that by 2025 Ohioans will have reduced demand by 22 percent from 2009 levels.

FirstEnergy is a monopoly. Its ratepayers don’t have a choice about whether they want to be FirstEnergy customers. So it is offensive for the utility to use money it collects from customers’ monthly bills to lobby them on the company’s behalf.

Worse, the company is wrong about the impact of clean energy on electricity prices. Clean energy, particularly wind energy, has matured to the point that incorporating it in Ohio’s energy mix saves consumers money and drives down electricity costs.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio found that because of the energy standard, the state’s renewable energy resources could save residents $8.4 million this year. By contrast, a report by Advanced Energy Ohio and Ohio State University found that a rollback of our state’s smart energy policy would raise Ohioans’ utility bills by nearly $4 billion over the next 12 years.

The cost savings of renewable energy are backed by real-world actions. The utility AEP Ohio allows its consumers to buy clean energy that is cheaper than conventional energy.

Clean energy technologies will continue to mature. They will reach economies of scale, driving electricity prices down and further benefiting consumers. Because I work with Ohio manufacturers, I understand how important the cost of energy is to our economy, wallets, and competitiveness.

Companies such as Owens Corning, Honda, Honeywell, and Whirlpool, and WIRE-Net — an organization of more than 300 manufacturers and other businesses — support the efficiency and renewable standards because they are stabilizing electric rates, improving competitiveness, and fueling innovation and investment in Ohio.

Ohio Advanced Energy Economy research estimates our state’s employment in renewables and efficiency industries at 25,000 jobs. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy projects savings through 2020 of $5.6 billion from energy spending that consumers and businesses will avoid because of Ohio’s energy policy.

Wind energy has even more economic benefits for Ohioans. Locally produced wind energy acts as a stabilizing force against the unpredictable fluctuations of global energy markets.

Manufacturing, installing, and maintaining clean energy installations also help Ohio’s economy. Money stays in Ohioans’ pockets that would otherwise be sent out of state or overseas.

FirstEnergy is fighting to roll back Ohio’s energy and efficiency standards because it is unwilling to change its antiquated business model, even though its customers want it to do so. The standards push the utility to develop innovative technologies and invest in a future of cheap, clean energy, when it would rather stagnate and pass its costs on to captive consumers.

Ohioans are seeing the rewards of our investment in clean energy and efficiency, and will continue to see them daily for years to come. FirstEnergy should use its mailing list to send bills and service updates — not disinformation.

John Colm is president and executive director of WIRE-Net and GLWN, formerly the Great Lakes Wind Network.

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