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Can Ohio Cities go 100% Renewable?

Chris Tavenor, General Counsel, December 29, 2017

Each day, environmental cases flood the U.S. court dockets and businesses develop innovative sustainable inventions. It’s impossible to keep up with them all! The Law Center at the Ohio Environmental Council wants to help you keep up by sharing important environmental problems facing Ohio and the United States. Each blog in our series will highlight critical court cases and a “breakthrough technology” that could transform state and national energy and environmental policy for years to come.

The story of Georgetown, Texas

A few years ago, a medium-sized Texas town committed to receiving 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Since that decision, numerous media outlets, movies, documentaries, summits and other green initiatives have highlighted the accomplishment. Georgetown, Texas committed to its electricity generation portfolio because it made economic sense. The mayor, Dale Ross, said: “The revolution is here…and I’m a good little Republican, a right-wing fiscal conservative, but when it comes to making decisions based on facts, that’s what we do.”

Georgetown’s system is fairly unique – the city has its own utility, making it easier to negotiate on behalf of its 65,000 citizens. In 2014, the city contracted for 144 MW of wind power, and in 2015, it negotiated for 150 MW of Solar. The municipality defends its decision stating that “the long-term agreements also allow Georgetown to provide competitive electric rates and hedge against price volatility for energy produced by fossil-fuels.” And in its FAQ section, Georgetown Utility Systems also says: “By going 100 percent renewable, Georgetown reduces pollution, saves water, both at a competitive price. [The city] seeks competitive power prices with low regulatory risk and price risk to its customers. The long term, flat cost, and zero carbon risk of the solar and wind contracts make Renewable Energy the right choice.”

What does this mean for Ohio?

However, Georgetown’s story is not so easily translated into a narrative that Ohio towns can adopt. First, Texas has access to very cheap solar, cheaper than the rest of the country, in fact. The national average cost of solar across the country is $3.69 per watt, while in Texas, the cost is just $3.21 per watt, caused by Texas sunny climate. However, Texas solar actually has a longer “payback period” than the rest of the country. Clean Technica reports that cheap natural gas prices contribute to this longer “payback” period in that state.

Conversely, Ohio’s more northern climate complicates the idea of 100% solar power, as does the legal framework for siting wind power. But that reality doesn’t mean a transition to renewable energy is impossible for Ohio’s communities. It takes more creative solutions, but Ohio has made some headway – it ranks 6th nationwide in “total wind capacity deployed in distributed applications,” with 42.1 MW installed between 2003 and 2016. And even though Ohio communities may not always have the ability to purchase wind or electricity for their citizens, due to the regulatory framework of public utilities in the state, they can encourage residents to install rooftop solar or “small wind electric systems.”

If Texans can implement robust renewable energy policies, Ohioans can also follow suit. Georgetown made the decision because it made economic sense – Ohio cities can also find compromises and contracts that ensure stability through renewable energy, distributed generation, smart grids, and other innovative solutions, even when state policy doesn’t emphasize similar priorities.

Technology Highlight- Tesla Solar Energy Tiles

A common critique of solar power is that it only provides electricity during the day, and thus, it can never provide all of the electricity that Ohioans and Americans need. Tesla, the company best known for its electric cars, disputes that argument through its proposed “solar roof” system, which provides an integrated distributed generation system comprised of “solar tiles” that replace shingles, complemented by a Tesla Powerwall (a rechargeable battery). The solar panels charge the battery during the day, especially at times when homeowners don’t use electricity, then the battery powers the house at night after the sun has set. Tesla also argues that its solar roof will be competitive with traditional roof tiles. If electricity storage on this scale actually works, then Ohio communities, and cities and towns across the United States, would have an even greater incentive to pursue 100% renewable energy policies.