Commentary

A brighter future is within reach. To get there, Ohio needs to act

October 14, 2022 4:20 am

A worker installs a solar panel on a residential rooftop. Getty Images.

They say that fortune favors the prepared. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), landmark legislation passed in August, could put us on a path toward a cleaner, more equitable energy future — if we are ready. 

The IRA represents the single biggest climate investment in U.S. history. Over the next ten years, it includes around $369 billion in clean energy and climate funding. Ohio could receive at least $12.8 billion of that, leading to cleaner air, more equitable access to clean energy and job growth across many sectors, including power, transportation, industrial, buildings, agriculture and forestry.

To appreciate the impact that is possible, it’s important to take stock of the investments being made here and now. Ohio’s manufacturing legacy, central location, and abundant freshwater supplies continue to motivate corporate development in our state. A recent survey of Ohio’s top 80 businesses revealed that most (77%) have renewable energy or greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. And of those with renewable energy-specific commitments, the average goal is to power their operations with at least 72% renewable energy, with many aiming to use 100% renewable energy by 2030.

That means the majority of our state’s largest employers are seeking to transition to carbon-free energy and fast. This opportunity could be bolstered by the $12.8 billion coming to Ohio from the IRA for investments in large-scale clean power generation and storage. That would mean more jobs, too. Various high-skilled positions in clean energy will be needed to deliver this future. However, none of this is guaranteed.

Even as fortune smiles on our state, we have cause to be apprehensive. We have witnessed the majority in the General Assembly derail our state’s potential to be a leader in renewable energy buildout with blatant precision — from the weakening of renewable energy targets to prohibitive policies that make it easier to restrict utility-scale solar and wind projects. Ohio derives just 4% of its electricity from renewable sources, putting us behind 39 other states. And the restrictions placed on would-be renewable energy projects have removed private property rights that would otherwise allow farmers and other property owners to capitalize on the new renewable energy economy.

I recognize there are many pathways to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and halting greenhouse gas emissions. And that the transition to clean energy can’t happen overnight. But with the rapid decline in costs for renewable energy and hundreds of thousands of acres of formerly mined lands and brownfields sitting vacant (over 300,000 acres to be exact) coupled with additional tax incentives in qualifying energy communities through the IRA, Ohio could thrive. And we could do this while improving energy security, protecting our vital farmland and natural areas, and bringing revenue and jobs to our communities.

Research has shown that projects that engage in comprehensive planning are more likely to succeed. By improving our policies, and using planning tools like Site Renewables Right and the 3C framework, Ohio could attract corporate investment and help them reach their climate commitments while prioritizing the long-term health of our region’s natural areas, delivering solutions that are good for the community, conservation, and the climate. 

But if we continue to pass restrictive policies that unfairly pick energy winners and losers and remove the ability for communities to invest in a clean energy future, the production and tax credits in the IRA, and the revenue they could bring to communities, will be lost. And our climate will suffer.

The decisions we make today are indeed shaping our future, so why not use the tools and technical and financial resources available to create one that favors healthy natural areas, a stable climate and thriving communities?

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Bill Stanley
Bill Stanley

Bill Stanley is State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Ohio, and leads a team of professionals and volunteers working to protect and enhance Ohio’s irreplaceable natural areas through targeted action and productive partnerships. The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation nonprofit working to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

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