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Moving Clean Energy Policy One State at a Time

By Zachary Slobig - Skoll Foundation

More than half the U.S. states have policies that require utilities to power their grid with a certain amount of renewable energy and for that amount to increase over time. These policies have proven effective in growing the clean energy economy and have also become a battleground between those pushing for a low-carbon future and those with a vested interest in supporting the fossil fuel industry.

The sustainability nonprofit organization Ceres (2006 Skoll Awardee) has worked with the most influential investors and companies to preserve these critical policies in the face of those eager to roll them back. Alli Gold Roberts, a senior manager on the state policy team at Ceres, recently stopped by the Skoll offices in Palo Alto to discuss the business mobilization efforts that Ceres is behind in Ohio.

In 2008, Ohio passed bipartisan legislation to create a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and an energy efficiency resource standard (EERS). The Ohio RPS requires utilities to power 12.5 percent of their energy from renewable energy resources by 2026. Utilities are also required to implement energy efficiency and peak demand reduction programs that will result in cumulative electricity savings of 22 percent by the end of 2025. In 2013, efforts got underway to either repeal or freeze the standards. Gov. John Kasich and others argued that the standards should be frozen at their then current six percent until a legislative study could determine their impact.

Ceres leapt into action and called on investors and companies throughout the state to voice their support for stronger–not weaker–renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. Campbell Soup Company was one of the first companies to stand up against calls to weaken the standards, issuing a public statement that blasted the proposed bill. Unfortunately, Ohio legislators turned their backs against the business voice and voted to pass the bill to freeze the states clean energy standards for two years pending a study, opening a period of intense debate. Legislators ultimately concluded that the standards should be frozen indefinitely.

Ceres once again mobilized its networks to push back and assembled a large group of investors and companies to oppose legislative proposals to extend the freeze. Gap, Owens Corning, Nestle, and Whirlpool came out publicly against the move. The vice president of sales at Clif Bar traveled from his home in Cincinnati to Columbus to meet with legislators and express his concerns during a Ceres organized lawmaker education day. Over the course of two years, Ceres executed a targeted campaign, drafting and placing op-eds, coordinating public investor and company statements, and conducting in-person meetings—engaging policymakers on every level of the state power structure.inline_840x473

“Our goal was to help change the conversation.” Roberts said. “It’s not about companies versus the environment. We wanted to bring diverse business voices into the dialogue.”

In December of 2016, lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have made the standards voluntary and extended the freeze for another two years.

In his veto statement, Gov. Kasich showed that he had heard the vocal push back from the corporate sector. “The business community wants clean energy and without it we won’t attract investment and we’ll lose out on jobs,” he said. In January 2017, Ohio’s clean energy standards went back into effect, but lawmakers continue to put forward proposals to weaken and eliminate the targets. So, the fight continues.

The Ceres experience in Ohio underscores the importance of building investor and company leadership and support in each state to advocate for strong clean energy policies. The gears of policy turn slowly and success can be measured in incremental adjustments in messaging and shifting discourse—in this case, from the Governor himself.

“The reason we are seeing movement on this issue is because it is creating jobs and growing the economy,” Roberts added. “We won’t give up.”

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