The wind turbines in Van Wert County, Ohio Wednesday, Jan. 4. 2017. Bill Lackey/Staff

Ohio 2nd in Midwest for renewable energy jobs but lags in growth

Ohio supports the second-most renewable energy jobs in the Midwest — such as those tied to wind turbines planned for Champaign County — but has seen slower growth than several of its neighbors, according to a study released earlier this month.

The Clean Jobs Midwest 2017 report was produced by the Clean Energy Trust, an investment group, and Environmental Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit comprised of business groups and investors. The report provided information on what it describes as clean energy jobs in 12 states, including Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.

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It showed Ohio provides more than 105,000 clean energy jobs, behind only Illinois in the Midwest, based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also supported more solar energy jobs than any other state, mostly in manufacturing.

The wind turbines in Van Wert County, Ohio Wednesday, Jan. 4. 2017. Bill Lackey/Staff
Photo: Staff Writer

But Ohio lagged its neighbors when it comes to how quickly the state has added new clean energy jobs. Clean energy jobs grew about 4.6 percent in Ohio between 2015 and 2016, compared to 5.3 percent in Michigan and 8 percent in Indiana, said Gail Parson, spokeswoman for Environmental Entrepreneurs.

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The bulk of the jobs included in Ohio’s report were tied to energy efficiency, which included positions in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry, as well as fields like advanced building materials and efficient lighting. That accounted for more than 81,000 of the jobs included in the report.

Renewable energy, which included jobs tied to wind and solar for example, was the second-largest sector with about 10,000 jobs.

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“The thing we noted in this year’s report and last year’s report is their growth in renewable energy could be a lot larger, and that’s due to what we think is an uncertain climate in the state,” Parson said. “The renewable energy standards were just unfrozen last year after a two-year freeze, and we think this creates a climate where businesses are unsure of the future of clean energy in the state.”

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The Ohio’s standards were first approved by Ohio lawmakers in 2008. They called for a quarter of the state’s energy to come from alternative sources by 2025, with half of that coming from renewable sources such as wind and solar. The law also required utilities to encourage energy efficiency, for example by offering customers rebates to purchase efficient appliances.

Lawmakers eventually froze the law for two years while a panel studied its effectiveness, and legislators voted last year to extend the freeze indefinitely and make the standards optional.

Opponents of the standards argued it was unnecessary and could lead to higher costs for consumers. But Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed the extension, meaning the requirements went back into effect this year.

Despite that debate, the Clean Jobs Midwest study showed Ohio led the region in solar energy jobs with more than 8,700 jobs driven primarily by manufacturing. But it ranked eighth out of the 12 states in wind energy jobs with about 1,300 jobs.

Parson argued tough requirements for turbines to be placed further back from homes and other properties has stalled the industry. Proponents of the tougher rules have argued allowing the turbines to be too close to neighboring properties could lead to concerns about safety and nuisance complaints.

State Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, announced legislation Thursday he said would ease the current setback requirements, potentially setting up a debate over the issue in Columbus.

In Champaign County, developers of a controversial wind farm recently reached an agreement with opponents that’s expected to allow the project to move forward after about a decade-long legal battle. The project initially proposed to build about 100 turbines spread throughout the county in two phases, but developers have since said the agreement will likely mean fewer turbines.

Jason Dagger, project manager for the Buckeye Wind Farm, declined to go into further detail about changes to the project. But he said the project’s developers will likely seek to amend the original certificates later this fall.

“We’re looking at an amendment, but I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like quite yet,” Dagger said.

The results of the Clean Jobs Midwest report in general aren’t surprising, said Robert Brecha, research director for the Hanley Sustainability Institute at the University of Dayton. It’s been clear for several years now that industries like energy efficiency and renewable energy creates a lot of jobs in Ohio.

UD also operates an Industrial Assessment Center, which conducts free energy assessments for small and midsize manufacturing firms, he said.

“We know from our own experience here at UD that our engineering students go out and get jobs in these HVAC and energy efficiency areas, and they help businesses save lots of money,” Brecha said. “

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