COMMENTARY: It’s time for serious discussion about energy

Devoted to rhetoric over information, Republicans are crowing and preening over “restoring energy independence” with the assault on the Clean Power Plan.

But the Clean Power Plan wasn’t supposed to go into effect until 2022, even without the challenges and obstacles the fossil-fuel industries are throwing at it. So killing it has zero impact on anything in 2017. No coal mining jobs saved or lost. No money saved or lost.

The United States is already 40 percent of the way to full compliance with the 2030 goal of the Clean Power Plan. That has nothing to do with regulation and everything to do with economics. Natural gas gets a lot of attention for displacing coal, but the data reveals more coal and carbon reduction than could be due to natural gas (which also emits CO2, although less than coal). The difference is explained by advances in efficient products and industrial processes, mostly driven by utility efficiency programs, and renewable energy, which is becoming cheaper than old coal and some old natural gas.

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That’s not to say the Clean Power Plan isn’t important. It’s a statement to the people of this nation and to the world that we are citizens, we take our impact on the world seriously, and we have orderly processes that solve problems. Republicans don’t understand orderly processes, much less care about civic duty. Or, for that matter, dialogue.

Ohio's Republican state representatives are actively working to weaken the current state efficiency and renewables standards. They have taken the bill which Gov. Kasich vetoed last December and made it worse. They whine about "mandates" which actually save a great deal of money, and ignore larger mandates — such as the $200 million per year the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio just granted to one Ohio utility to keep aging nuclear and coal plants alive.

It’s not that the current standards are perfect. They could certainly be improved. But not by ignoring the actual savings created by the efficiency programs and the jobs created by the renewable electricity projects.

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Most of Ohio’s wind power isn’t receiving any subsidy at all from the state standards because it is competitive on its own merits. Ohio’s efficiency programs cost about $200 million while creating about $900 million worth of savings each year.

Westinghouse Nuclear, a former U.S. company now owned by Toshiba, just announced bankruptcy. That puts both of the nuclear plants under construction in the United States into limbo, and probably cancellation, after tens of billions of dollars were spent. Most of the money likely to be lost at the Vogtle plant in Georgia is federal tax dollars given to the plant as a subsidy — $8.4 billion, which is more than the entire national cost of wind subsidies.

Georgia can eliminate the need for the plant in a quarter of the time it was expected to take to build the plant with energy efficiency. The state is one of the worst states in the nation for efficiency. There is a long history of utilities using efficiency programs to repair damage done by failed nuclear projects.

We should have a serious public discussion about the best ways to manage these matters. But for now the Republicans have made it pretty clear that serious discussion isn't their thing.

Ned Ford is an energy consultant from Waynesville.