Ohio's energy sources: Petroleum and renewables

This will be my last column in a four-part series about how Ohio generates energy for electricity. First, I want to correct an error in my last column: Ohio gets 14 percent of its power from nuclear energy, not 20 percent. The United States, as a whole, generates about 20 percent of electricity from nuclear power plants.

Second, I have heard from a couple of readers who do not feel I addressed nuclear power's risks enough. Nuclear power, despite not contributing greenhouse gases, remains a very controversial power source. The ongoing controversy has to do with the storage of the highly toxic, radioactive waste that has to be stored indefinitely, as well as potential nuclear accidents as the world has seen at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. As always, I encourage you to do your own research into this matter in order to form your own opinion about whether nuclear power is a viable source of energy for Ohio or not.

Today, I’m going to write about two sources: petroleum and renewables. Ohio gets about 1 percent of its electricity from burning petroleum. Petroleum is a fossil fuel like coal and natural gas, and is not renewable. Another name for petroleum is crude oil, and it is found in underground pools or reservoirs, and in tiny spaces in sedimentary rock. It is clear, green or black, and can have a thin consistency like gasoline or a thick consistency like tar. 

Crude oil is burned to heat water, which creates steam, which is used to generate electricity. Burning oil pollutes the air, water and land. Air pollution consists of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, methane, mercury and volatile organic compounds. However, the worst environmental impacts of petroleum have come from accidents involving oil drilling, transporting and refining. Drilling for petroleum produces air pollutants as well, including hydrogen sulfide, and is known to negatively impact workers and wildlife close to the drilling.

Oil-fired power plants require large amounts of water for steam and cooling, which can impact local water resources and aquatic habitats. Additionally, there is a solid waste issue with burning petroleum, as it produces sludge and oil residues which are toxic and hazardous.

Ohio currently gets about 2.3 percent of its energy for electricity from sources that are renewable. These sources include wind, solar and hydropower. In 2008, Ohio enacted electric industry restructuring, which mandates that 12.5 percent of electricity is generated by renewable sources by 2024. The renewable energy portfolio sets annual benchmarks for utilities and companies, and they are subject to compliance payments if the benchmarks are not met.

In 2014, the Ohio Senate voted to freeze the mandate for two years, which delayed the final goal to 2027. In December 2016, Governor John Kasich vetoed another two-year freeze, which made the benchmarks mandatory starting this year, 2017. Ohio’s clean standards are restored, and with the new mandate for renewables, Ohio is working to create jobs and grow the economy, while simultaneously reducing emissions.

The solar and wind industries are each creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy, according to a report published in January by the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps program. Solar and wind jobs have grown at rates of about 20 percent annually in recent years. Currently about 4 to 4.5 million people in the U.S. are employed in renewable energy, up from about 3.4 million in 2011. 

Renewable energy from wind involves harnessing energy from the force of natural wind with wind turbines. There is a lot of wind potential in Ohio. According to the Wind Energy Foundation, Ohio can expand wind power and in turn lower electricity bills, create jobs, and reduce pollution. Wind power as kilowatt per hour (kWh) costs less than a quarter as much a kWh from a nuclear power plant. Wind energy in Ohio could provide 6.4 percent of electricity by 2020, 15.5 percent by 2030, and save over $5.3 billion in electric bills through the year 2050. Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified wind turbine service technicians to be one of the country’s fastest growing occupations.

Hydropower is another renewable source of energy that uses flowing water to spin turbines that are connected to a generator. Hydropower plants use the current from a river or falling water that has accumulated in a dam to create the force necessary to spin the turbines. Currently, only 3 percent of the U.S.’s existing dams are equipped to generate power, creating a large potential for growth in this area.

Solar power harnesses the energy from the sun to produce electricity. In 2016, Ohio’s solar industry added more than 1,000 jobs, which was a 21 percent increase from 2015. 

Renewable energy sources do not emit greenhouse gases, and unlike fossil fuels, they will not deplete. As I have mentioned in other columns, carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases cause the earth to trap heat, increasing Earth’s temperature and harming our health and environment. Furthermore, unlike the fossil fuel industry, renewable energy does not require water for cooling, thus eliminating negative effects on local water resources and aquatic habitats. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that if the country generated 80 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2050, greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions – which cause global warming – could be reduced by 81 percent.  

Thank you for reading my column, and I hope you have learned more about Ohio’s sources of electricity over the past few issues. 

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Volume 9, Issue 5, Posted 9:28 AM, 03.07.2017