Our future lies in clean, renewable energy

September 5, 2020

The Times Leader

RANDI POKLADNIK


Most Ohioans who have lived in the state for more than 50 years have noticed that our weather is definitely changing. We have warmer winters overall, hotter summers, less snow and less rain, and in general when we do get rain events, they tend to be accompanied with extreme winds.


This summer is no exception. Since May, my county, Harrison, has had 24 days in the upper 80s and 19 days above 90 degrees. There are several portions of the state that have witnessed weeks without any significant rainfall.


May was the warmest May ever recorded globally. Also“freakishly” high temperatures were seen in the arctic, especially the Russian Arctic region in Siberia. On May 22, the town of Khatanga, located well north of the Arctic Circle, recorded a temperature of 78 degrees, some 46 degrees above normal. On Aug. 19, Death Valley’s temperature soared to 130 degrees, which broke U.S. records as well as global records as the hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet.


Greenland has lost a catastrophic amount of freshwater due to glacier melt. A study using NASA satellites showed in one month it lost the same amount of ice that it normally loses in a year. The net ice loss in 2019 was more than 530 billion metric tons. To put that in context, that’s as if seven Olympic-sized swimming pools were dumped into the ocean every second of the year.


The storms, Laura and Marcos, are the earliest “L” and “M” storms ever to be named in August. The Atlantic record for earliest “L” storm is Luis on Aug. 29, 1995.” Sadly, as temperatures increase, we use more electricity to power our air conditioners and increase the emissions of climate changing gases.


Given that Ohio is experiencing firsthand the effects of a changing climate, you would think state leaders would be trying to incorporate as many energy-saving measures and renewable energy projects as possible into its energy mix. That is not the case.

I took part in two virtual testimony events held by the Ohio Power Siting Board in August. One was to receive comments for a proposed gas-powered electricity plant on the campus of Ohio State University. The other was for a proposed project called the Emerson Creek Wind Farm Project.


The gas power plant in Columbus is a $290 million project that would be located on the western side of the campus. It would provide 105.5 megawatts of combined heat and power exclusively to the university. It will be a major emitter of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. It will use fracked gas from our region, continuing the pollution that Southeast Ohio communities face every day from fracking, pipelines, compressor stations and other fracking infrastructure.


It will do nothing to alleviate the fugitive emissions of methane gas, a very potent greenhouse gas. The 2018 well blowout by XTO in Belmont County resulted in 20 straight days of 132 tons of methane being spewed into the air, a release so great it was picked up by a methane-monitoring satellite.


The other project, the Emerson Creek Wind Project, would straddle the counties of Huron and Erie and be located south of Sandusky. Its 70 turbines would provide 300 megawatts of electricity and power 88,000 homes. It would take advantage of existing power lines and roads and, as a result, little infrastructure would be needed aside from the half acre footprint for the turbine and access road.


The project will provide $51.3 million in landowner payments at a time when Ohio citizens are feeling the economic pain from the COVID-19 pandemic. The project also would help schools with a $54 million payment and the county and townships would benefit with a $27 million payment. There would be the creation of 150 construction jobs as well as 15 operation and maintenance jobs.


Wind power development in Ohio has been blunted by unreasonable restrictive legislation including the current set-back rules for wind turbines passed in 2014. These are the most restrictive in the nation. According to the Ohio Environmental Council, “the impact of this change was an effective moratorium on any new wind farm, because since 2014, the Ohio Power Siting Board has not approved any new wind farm projects.”


The power siting board has hampered Project Icebreaker Wind. This project, which would be the first offshore wind facility in the Great Lakes, would see the construction of a 20.7 megawatt demonstration wind farm with six turbines.


The project received all of the appropriate permits and conducted the environmental impact studies. However, in May, the OPSB added a “last-minute permitting condition” that would require the blades be turned off every night for eight months out of the year. This was supposedly to protect birds; however, an ornithologist who prepared the draft environmental impact said “this was the lowest-risk project” he ever worked on.


This restrictive legislation is preventing job creation in Ohio, preventing Ohio citizens from earning income from leasing their property for wind turbine development and does nothing to combat climate change. It is estimated that Ohio has lost $4 billion in economic opportunities because of the legislation.


A recent report in Energy News Network said Illinois has added the third most new wind capacity and is the sixth state to surpass 5,000 megawatts of wind capacity. Indiana ranks 12th nationwide with 2,317 megawatts.


Ohio only has 738 megawatts of installed wind capacity, yet the state is the largest manufacturer of components for the wind industry.


Even though advances in wind technology have made it one of the cheapest sources of electricity, Ohio remains in the past, clinging to energy sources that are dirty and unsustainable and passing crippling legislation like the infamous HB 6 that will significantly weaken the state’s renewable energy standards.


We need a future that adopts clean, green renewable energy with wind power as part of our energy mix.


(Pokladnik, a resident of Uhrichsville, is an environmental scientist.)