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Published: Sunday, 7/16/2006

Could Ohio reverse its role in global-warming equation?

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Nick Lesinszki works on a panel at a First Solar plant in Perrysburg Township. The firm is a leading developer of thin solar panels marketed for household use. Nick Lesinszki works on a panel at a First Solar plant in Perrysburg Township. The firm is a leading developer of thin solar panels marketed for household use.
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Ohio is America's fourth-largest contributor to global warming.

It trails only Texas, California, and Pennsylvania in the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide that spews into the atmosphere from power plants, factories, automobiles, and other combustion sources.

But that information, culled from the latest online records posted by the federal government's Energy Information Administration, hasn't kept a lot of people from believing Ohio could become a role model for reversing the trend.

Even the Ohio Environmental Council, one of the state's largest environmental groups, believes Ohio can do wonders to help bring down carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases - if there's enough political will.

But the group, which recently issued a 65-pronged set of recommendations, isn't just demanding more expensive pollution controls that drive up costs for electric ratepayers and consumers of various goods, including automobiles.

It believes a fair chunk of the solution lies within the state's enormous manufacturing sector.

Yes, the hope is that all the hubbub of late over global warming will - believe it or not - create as many as 22,000 more jobs in Ohio, from companies building anything from pipelines to wind turbines.

"I think the potential for Ohio is enormous and goes across the whole spectrum," said Mark Shanahan of the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority, echoing the sentiments of that report.

As executive director of the authority, Mr. Shanahan leads the state agency that helps businesses comply with state and federal air-pollution laws.

He noted a study released last fall by a nonprofit institute called Policy Matters Ohio. It ranked Ohio fourth for job-creation potential if an alternative energy boom materializes, citing the potential for 22,000 new jobs.

Here in northwest Ohio, Phoenix-based First Solar LLC is a hot company, Mr. Shanahan said.

Employment at the company's satellite plant in Perrysburg Township, which is undergoing a $74 million expansion, has doubled to 500 since Jan. 1. First Solar is one of the nation's leading developers of thin solar panels marketed as more practical and affordable for homeowners.

Mr. Shanahan said about a dozen Ohio companies make parts for alternative energy devices, such as Canton-based Timken's ball bearings for wind turbines and Magna Machine Co., of Cincinnati, which makes casings for those turbines.

Jack Shaner, Ohio Environmental Council spokesman, cited Vanner Inc., of Hilliard, Ohio, which makes inverters for solar panels. Those convert solar energy from DC to AC for household use.

Whirlpool, which earlier this year acquired Maytag Corp. for $1.79 billion, makes energy-efficient appliances. It is adding 1,300 jobs at its Ohio facilities in Clyde and Marion, while eliminating 4,500 jobs in Iowa, Illinois, and Arkansas.

The Eaton Corp. of Cleveland makes fuel-efficient trucks, Mr Shaner said.

Plus, there are Ohio-based companies making major investments in alternatives. Case in point: The Andersons of Maumee, whose stock skyrocketed after announcing plans for ethanol plants in Michigan and Indiana. Just days ago, it signed a deal with Marathon Oil Corp. that could lead to the construction of several more.

Honda Motor Co., which employs 16,000 Ohio residents, builds one of the most popular hybrid vehicles. Owens-Corning, based in Toledo, makes some of the nation's most popular types of home insulation and roofing shingles, which can conserve energy, Mr. Shaner said.

"Controlling greenhouse gases is not a quick, easy, or cheap proposition. But there are going to be some clear economic winners," Mr. Shaner said.

The "big enchilada," he said, is the $1 billion carrot being dangled by the U.S. Department of Energy called FutureGen.

The project calls for construction of America's first coal-fired power plant that would be designed to be virtually emissions-free. Coal would be turned into highly enriched hydrogen gas and burned cleanly. Carbon dioxide from the plant would be compressed into liquid and injected underground.

The list of potential host states is to be narrowed by July 31.

Ohio is one of seven states in the running.

The list could be narrowed to finalists as early as July 31, Mr. Shanahan said.

The winner gets the immediate benefit of 1,000 construction jobs and the ancillary benefit of 100 permanent jobs in research, operations, and other duties, once the plant is running. The intangibles include having the winning state become the unofficial hub of such research, which could translate to millions of more dollars.

Many signs point to global warming becoming a - well - hotter issue both in Ohio and nationally.

There's the publicity campaign behind former Vice President Al Gore's book and movie, An Inconvenient Truth. The cover story on this week's Newsweek magazine is about how Americans have taken a renewed interest in alternative power, energy conservation, and the environment in general.

On June 22, the prestigious National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, said there is "sufficient evidence from tree rings, boreholes, retreating glaciers, and other [factors] to say with a high level of confidence that the last few decades of the 20th century were warmer than any comparable period in the last 400 years."

"The debate over how to control carbon dioxide is now by how much and by what time, instead of whether we have to do it," Mr. Shanahan said.

"In the community of experts, there is in fact a consensus," he said. "In the business world - whether they believe the science or the political tea leaves - they're acknowledging now this is a reality."

In May, FirstEnergy Corp. became the Midwest's first utility to have a coal-fired power plant chosen for carbon sequestration research - in which carbon dioxide gases would get injected deep underground rather than vented into the atmosphere. FirstEnergy has offered its Berger plant on the Ohio River near Shadyside, Ohio, as the region's first test site.

The research is part of $18.1 million in carbon studies being funded by the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership, run by the Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus. Some of that money also will be dedicated to studying how effective trees in seven Midwestern states, including Ohio and Michigan, are at absorbing carbon dioxide.

In England, BP is leading a $25 million carbon sequestration research that involves eight countries. Results could conceivably help ensure the viability of BP's oil refineries, including one in eastern Lucas County.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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