Rebecca Mellino missed the mark in her criticism of Ohio’s energy portfolio in her March 23 guest column. Mellino uses Intel’s recent announcement to argue for incentivizing renewable energy production (and reliance) in Ohio–all while ignoring the massive benefits of natural gas for Ohio’s consumers, the environment, and job growth.
The argument is tone-deaf to the need for reliable base load energy as Ohioans see skyrocketing energy costs and rising prices at the pump. We’ve also seen the stark reality unfolding in Europe, as Vladimir Putin wages an unjust and illegal war in Ukraine. When green-at-all-cost advocates in Europe shut off nuclear and fossil fuel power generation years ago, without concern for their own baseload needs, they found themselves beholden to the likes of Putin for oil and natural gas. We cannot allow ourselves to fall victim to their same fate.
I applaud Intel’s announcement of an initial $20 billion investment, putting Licking County at the epicenter of a new Silicon Heartland, and Ohio at the forefront of lessening our reliance on China and other countries for semiconductors, which are vital to both our national security and our economy. I also support the decision by Intel to set goals for renewable generation. Doing so is aspirational but also acknowledges a reality ignored by many — that renewables fall short and blindly flipping the switch would increase — not lessen — our reliance on bad actors.
China supplies many of the key components in solar panels, including more than 80 percent of the world’s polysilicon, a raw material that most solar panels use to absorb energy from sunlight. In 2019, less than 5 percent of the world’s polysilicon came from American-owned companies. We have a long way to go.
If the U.S. wants to compete in renewables, we must bring critical production back home, not increase investments in Chinese technology. That is just one reason the Intel announcement is so profound – it is a crucial step in reclaiming U.S. manufacturing leadership on the world stage, albeit in semiconductors, not solar panels. Reclaiming American manufacturing leadership in one area — only to sacrifice it in another — is counterproductive.
Others will surely follow, but the reality is, going fully renewable is not ready for prime time. That’s why I favor an all-of-the-above approach to meeting the power generation needs of Ohio’s growing economy. This includes both renewables and natural gas, which is clean, affordable, and abundant — and it’s right here in Ohio. By setting reasonable long-term goals, companies like Intel allow themselves the flexibility of meeting their initial power needs while working to responsibly transition to renewables.
Transition is the operative word. While renewable technologies continue to develop, Ohio is uniquely positioned as a leader thanks to an abundant supply of natural gas. It is estimated that the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits combined have a total of 214 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. Natural gas that can power the country in addition to reducing the carbon dioxide emissions of Ohio’s electric generation by 38 percent.
We must reject the false notion that a cleaner environment can only be achieved at the peril of the United States' energy security and independence. That means avoiding the dangerous green-at-all-cost rhetoric that ultimately led to the predicament that Europe now faces. At both the local level and geopolitical level, energy transitions must be guided by reality, not rhetoric.
This column appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on Friday, April 8, 2022.