After living with widely fluctuating - and generally skyrocketing - energy prices for months, Americans are showing more interest these days in alternatives to fossil fuels. But for some, the desire to increase the country's use of renewable energy - like solar or wind power - is nothing new. As part of Making Change: Building the Region's Future, ideastream's Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz reports on such efforts underway in Ohio.
Amy Hanauer: Ohio is very well-positioned to fuel the national commitment to alternative energy.
Amy Hanauer is executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit research organization focused on economic policy. Hanauer says Ohio's history as a manufacturing powerhouse makes it an appropriate place to produce alternative energy, like solar and wind power.
Amy Hanauer: Ohio already has some of the best component manufacturing in the nation and indeed in the world. Instead of just creating component parts for automobiles or other machinery that currently exists, we could be creating component parts that go into windmills that create energy for the entire nation.
Policy Matters Ohio is working in partnership with the Apollo Alliance, a national coalition of environmental, labor, and other groups interested in increasing renewable energy production and encouraging energy conservation. Such efforts, according to proponents, not only protect the environment, but boost the economy. Jeff Rickert is acting executive director of the Apollo Alliance.
Jeff Rickert: The Apollo plan, over 10 years, would create $6 billion in new revenue for the federal government, on top of the trillion dollars in new economic activity and the 3 million we're talking about, that are good jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors.
An economic analysis of a region-wide plan predicts similar results for the Midwest - the potential for as many as 200-thousand new jobs and 20 billion dollars in increased economic activity over a 20-year period. Geoffrey Hewings is director of the Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois and co-author of the 2002 report. He says when Ohioans pay for fossil fuels like oil, much of their money leaks out to other regions, and other countries. Increasing renewable energy production, Hewings says, would keep more money here.
Geoffrey Hewings: A lot of these new energy sources are locally available, they're gonna be locally installed, using local labor, and basically a lot more of that income is going to circulate and re-circulate within the region.
And then there's price stability. Some say diversifying energy production would help keep prices stable. That's one motivation driving Democratic state legislator Michael Skindell, who represents Lakewood and parts of Cleveland. He's sponsoring a bill that would require utilities across Ohio to boost their use of renewable energy sources to 20 percent by 2020.
Michael Skindell: If you just invest in coal and natural gas to produce electricity, you're gonna have spikes in prices and unreliability. But if you increase the mix of energy generation with other sources, such as renewables, you'll get more stabilized prices and more reliability.
Some 18 states have passed similar laws.
Proponents of renewable energy concede it can be prohibitively expensive - at least at the beginning. Glenn Hamer is director of governmental affairs at First Solar, a manufacturer of solar panels with a growing production presence in Ohio. He says the up-front capital costs of transitioning to solar power are enormous.
Glenn Hamer: Buying a solar electricity system is like buying a car with all the gas you would ever need included in the sticker price.
Despite this, Hamer says, the market for solar energy has grown 30 to 35 percent in just the last five years. Much of that market is foreign, he says, because of government subsidies for solar power in places like Germany. Still, with the market continuing to increase, First Solar is anticipating tripling its output over the next few years. And as production increases, Hamer says, solar power will become more affordable.
Glenn Hamer: Prices have been coming down steadily for the past 25 years. The easy rule of thumb is that for every doubling of manufacturing capacity, about an 18 percent decline in cost of producing modules has occurred.
But prices would go up slightly with passage of Representative Skindell's legislation. He says it would add about 3 cents to each consumer's monthly bill for the next five years or so. After that, he says, prices would begin coming down. And he contends if a similar bill - brought to the legislature in 1999 - had passed, Ohioans wouldn't currently be experiencing such high and widely fluctuating energy prices.
John Byrne: We go up to this individual in a genuine and caring way, and we say to them, 'you look a little scattered today; tell me about it.' and you shut up. you allow this person to begin to defuse because what this investment of your time, talent, and effort may be doing is defusing what otherwise could turn into an incident .
Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz, 90.3.