Renewable Energy in Ohio is Not on Hold

Bill Spratley, Executive Director of Green Energy Ohio

Renewable Energy in Ohio is not on hold
Renewable Energy in Ohio is not on hold. Guest: Bill Spratley, Green Energy Ohio

I had a chance to speak with Bill Spratley, Executive Director of Green Energy Ohio since 2001. Bill worked as a consumer advocate and consultant in the utility industry for many years and served on U.S. DOE advisory boards under Carter, Bush and Clinton. He spent 16 years as Ohio’s first consumer’s counsel and founded the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates. I would say Green Energy Ohio is pretty lucky to have an executive director that brings that much industry experience to the organization.

I talked with Bill at the American Solar Energy Society’s Solar 2015 conference and we covered a lot of topics.

BS: My name is Bill Spratley. I’m the Executive Director of Green Energy Ohio, a statewide non-profit that promotes renewable energy. We’re the Ohio chapter of the American Solar Energy Society or ASES.

DB: About how many members do you guys have?

BS: We have about 400 members across the state. About 80 of those are businesses in the clean energy business, solar, wind, energy efficiency.

DB: Ohio has had some ups and downs recently in renewable energy. You guys were kind of on a roll.

BS: We’re here at the ASES conference. At the 36th conference which was eight years ago in Cleveland we have 5,000 people and the theme was making America sustainable and the idea was to talk about green jobs. We actually released a study, one of the first green jobs studies that was ever released. And what we showed at that conference was how solar can put people to work and we’re one of the leading states that makes solar panels. We have a big First Solar plant and we’re also the number one state that makes parts for wind turbines because we make things in Ohio. So the connection to jobs is very important in the state of Ohio and it even got bigger as we went through the recession. But the year after the 2007 event we passed in Ohio a renewable portfolio standard. We were the 25th state to finally join the rest that had done that and in the several years after that Ohio had one of the most aggressive renewable portfolio standards. And we put into the ground two big wind farms. We now have almost 1,600 solar arrays across the state. We have other forms of renewable energy. A year ago the state legislature unfortunately froze our renewable standard and changed the setbacks for wind farms. So, we have been put on hold, but the interesting thing is and edict of the legislature doesn’t stop technology. So we still have, in particular, municipal utilities and big corporations putting up very large solar arrays in Ohio. And we’re hoping that our state policy makers will see the light. What they did in Ohio really hasn’t caught fire. Texas recently rejected an attempt to roll back the RPS for example. It’s a big state like Ohio. And so we’re confident that the technology will win out in the long run. So I think what it shows is that when solar gets a foothold it becomes a threat to some utilities and interest groups that are protecting the fossil interests in particular. Now personally I think we need natural gas. It has half the emissions of coal. We’ve seen Ohio’s reliance on coal subside as it’s replaced by natural gas. We need baseload units like that but we also need solar and wind and the price keeps coming down and ultimately General Motors has two factories that have big solar arrays. They’re not doing it because they want to say they’re green so much. They’re doing it because it’s saving them money and I think that the economics are going to continue to go in our favor and I think we’re going to see a lot more solar and wind in Ohio and across the United States and the world.

DB: This is well beyond the treehugger level now right? It’s about the other kind of green which is money.

BS: Yeah I think it’s about getting into the mainstream. We have to take alternative energy and make it conventional energy. And that’s starting to happen in a lot of places. We’re seeing it where it’s grid parity. It’s becoming more and more adopted by the utilities. I think in the first quarter of this year across the U.S. solar was the main thing that the big utilities put on their grid. And so they’re going to have to change their model. We’re going to see communities acting more to take control of their energy future. I think that rooftop solar still has a place. I just put it on my house a year and a half ago. I finally could do it because a tree came down in a windstorm. But there are a lot of people like myself who can’t do solar because they have trees or the property doesn’t face the right direction or they don’t own the property, they’re tenants. So we’re seeing a big emergence of community solar. The idea that communities can put in bigger systems. In my state we aggregate customers in Ohio. In some of our big cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati are aggregating their customers and buying renewable energy. So we see a lot of innovative things happening in Ohio, so the state abdicating its role, in the long run it’s just going to find an outlet in other local governments that are closer to the people anyway.

For the complete interview please listen to the podcast.

Thanks so much to Bill Spratley for a great interview and here’s hoping that the legislators in Ohio see the light.

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Music Credits
Thanks to Johnny Conqueroo for the the music for this episode.

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