The Ohio Governor’s Energy Summit & the Future of Ohio’s Energy Economy

On September 21 and 22, 2011, Ohio Governor John Kasich held a summit discussing the state's future energy needs and how energy impacts the state's long-term economic growth. To get a first-hand account of this event, we invited energy efficiency expert and Ohio native John Seryak to give us his thoughts on the summit. The following guest blog is the work of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of ACEEE.

Ohio is well known for its technical innovation heritage. And when it comes to clean technology, the state holds its own. The first electric wind turbine was built in Cleveland in 1888. Recycled paper was patented in Dayton. The term “biomimetic” was coined at Wright-Patterson AFB. And today Ohio is poised to be a global leader in clean tech. Full of major research labs—GE’s NELA labs, Owens Corning, Battelle, NASA Glenn, and Wright Patterson, the state also sports a growing photovoltaic hub centered at Toledo, and supply chain makers of everything from skylights to fuel cell and wind turbine parts. Add to this Senate Bill (SB) 221, which in 2008 set a strong renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) for the state’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs). When the carbon reduction rush comes, Ohio is sitting on the mother lode, and will have all the tools to access it.

Building on this history, in September 2011 Governor Kasich convened the Ohio Governor’s 21st Century Energy and Economic Summit—a meeting of influential thinkers from industry, academia, and nonprofits to discuss Ohio’s energy future. It was at this summit that panelists succinctly described the opportunities in this cauldron of technical innovation, manufacturing backbone, and research prowess in two words—natural gas! Renewable energy was not ignored nor thrown under the bus, but instead given the familiar lip service of “they have their place, but we’ve got to be realistic,” to paraphrase. Energy efficiency, however, went with almost no mention by any panelist over the two days except for Gov. Kasich himself, who thoroughly championed energy efficiency in both his opening and closing addresses. Gov. Kasich referred to energy efficiency as “a slam dunk” and vowed that he would “look aggressively at energy efficiency.”

Governor Kasich has made clear that he desires to pick up the ball from former Gov. Strickland’s “Energy, Jobs and Progress” effort that culminated in SB 221. Where exactly that ball is going is where the tea leaf reading begins. A key point that the Governor made was the need to comprehensively address all of Ohio’s energy needs, not just electricity. There were discussions of energy independence for the state, and a special focus was given to creating a market for combined heat and power (CHP) and waste-energy resources (WER), which would presumably require tweaking SB 221. Hopefully these topics were not merely sideshows to the more prominent discussions around development of the Utica and Marcellus shale.

It’s anyone’s guess if and how these ideas will be implemented. Perhaps the Governor’s call for creative and innovative suggestions will produce something truly unique, and push the state forward. For example, while some IOUs are over-achieving on their efficiency requirements, others have barely gotten off the couch. The vast differences in performance from the IOUs beg a market, and a choice between their programs. And why not? Consumers can choose their generation provider, why not choose their efficiency program provider? If the program riders were placed into a common pot and distributed proportional to program savings achievement, a regulated IOU program could finally have a revenue motive to exceed the efficiency benchmarks. And if those IOUs could shop their programs in competitor territories, businesses would have a choice.

Whatever path the state takes forward, I hope that there will be positive national implications. SB 221 passed in 2008 with nearly perfect bipartisanship—it passed 32-0 in the State Senate and 93-1 in the State House. We would be so lucky to have such bipartisanship at the national level, and luckier to have a working national energy strategy. Hopefully, Ohio can capture that bipartisan fervor again, and strengthen the market-developing mechanisms for energy efficiency and renewable energy, while broadening our energy strategy to include fuels.

 

Presentations from the summit are archived here: http://www.battelle.org/conferences/ohioenergy/.