Granholm joins national push for renewable energy

5/8/2011
BY TOM HENRY
BLADE COLUMNIST

Former two-term Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm may have become one of northwest Ohio’s biggest allies without stopping in this area or being recruited by locals for her support.

Ms. Granholm, a Democrat, is now stumping for a national renewable energy portfolio along with former U.S. Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican. Both are co-leaders of a campaign launched by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Clean Energy Program.

Pew’s goal is for all states to have a certain percentage of their electricity generated by renewable energy sources such as wind power, solar power, and biomass.

More than two-thirds of the states have such programs, but it’s a mishmash of requirements.

One of the more aggressive calls for at least 20 percent of all electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Ohio requires 25 percent of its power to come from “advanced” sources by 2025, but only half of that — 12.5 percent — must come from renewable sources. The other 12.5 percent can come from so-called “clean coal” and nuclear, the former of which is largely undefined and potentially years away from being used en masse. Nuclear is a proven technology, but it’s on a political roller-coaster because of cost overruns and safety issues, the loudest crescendo of late being radioactive fallout from the Japan nuclear disaster.

So if you believe renewable energy is where northwest Ohio’s future lies — and our own governor, John Kasich, apparently doesn’t, given the cuts he’s calling for it in his first budget — then Ms. Granholm & Co. could be solidifying a market for renewable energy products made here in northwest Ohio.

The debate comes down to how wise it is to use government money and incentives to jump-start demand. FirstEnergy Corp., for example, sees that as tinkering with the natural laws of supply and demand. Supporters cite a long history of government incentives in other energy sectors and our decades-old addiction to oil as being unnatural, given how the federal government for years kept prices artificially low.

During a recent telephone interview from Columbus, where she’d gone to address the Ohio Business Council for a Clean Economy, Ms. Granholm told me that she believes that passage of a national standard for renewable energy would send a signal to the business community that the United States is serious about reducing foreign imports and addressing climate change through reduced carbon emissions.

“You have to send a market signal to these companies,” she said.

Ms. Granholm also is promoting electric hybrid vehicles; seeking an increase in the federal tax credit from its present level of 10 percent to 30 percent for companies that recycle steam through a co-generation power process, and lobbying for a four-fold increase in the government’s clean energy investment by 2015, from its present level of $3.8 billion to $15 billion.

China and Germany have outpaced the United States the past two years in the dollars they’ve invested in the clean energy sector — $54.4 billion for China and $41.2 billion for Germany, compared with America’s $34 billion, according to Ms. Granholm. “The world has changed with respect to globalization,” Ms. Granholm said. “We’re in third place and dropping.”

Even so, renewable energy’s a tough sell for her and others in Ohio now because of the changing political landscape.

The state of Ohio’s commitment to renewable energy — and whatever extent Toledo’s future depends on it — has become cloudy just a couple of years after Toledo had emerged with its unlikely reputation as the future Silicon Valley of the Midwest by gaining the attention of The Economist, Newsweek, and others.

In his first budget plan, released in March, Mr. Kasich called for cutting Ohio’s advanced energy program by more than half. He wants it to return to its $8 million funding level in the 2012 fiscal year that begins July 1, down $9 million from its $17 million funding level for the 2011 fiscal year.

The Kasich administration claims there was an “extraordinarily high demand for the program” in the 2011 fiscal year.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.