Q: The renewable energy industry has been booming in Ohio in recent years, more so here than in many other states. Why?
A: There are a few other states where it’s happening, too, but I believe legislators and taxpayers here have embraced these opportunities not just for environmental reasons, but for the economic benefits as well.
To that end, Ohio has created incentives that don’t exist in every state, which promote growth and expansion. As the costs associated with doing business in this sector come down, these incentives help take the industry to the next level.
Q: Your company is an example of this.
A: We work with Ohio K-12 school districts to reduce their operating costs with respect to electricity and natural gas.
We use a state program that has been around since 1989, which allows those districts to borrow the funds to implement these systems as long as they are able to be paid for by the energy savings they create. So, they are upgrades that literally pay for themselves, using money the schools would already be spending on energy for their facilities. Furthermore, we guarantee those savings so the school district and, by extension, the taxpayer, has no risk.
Q: You are part of a trade group known as Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2 for short, which is lobbying to reinstate federal tax credits for renewable energy that expired at the end of 2013. Many believe this isn’t a viable industry on its own, that it can only survive through subsidies and other government handouts. Is that true?
A: That used to be the case a few years ago, but today it is absolutely not. I did my first solar project with the Bradford School District eight years ago at a cost of $8,000 per kw (kilowatt). Today, that cost is below $2,000. We do get a payback regardless of the incentives.
Q: But if the industry can truly stand on its own, why the need for the tax credits?
A: I understand why people are hesitant about this, why they question it. I’m a fiscal conservative myself, so I get that it has to make sense economically. Like I said, we get a payback already. Once you add the incentives, now you’re down to a four- to six-year payback, and that makes for a very good return on investment. When that happens, you get economic growth. My own business has grown from a single-person operation to an employer of more than 50 people in less than four years. When businesses grow and expand, more jobs are created, which all adds to the tax base.
Q: Of course, you know that it is an uphill battle, especially at the federal level, where the climate lately has been to cut costs wherever possible. Incentives exactly like this have been squarely in the target for elimination. How do you convince lawmakers to see them differently?
A: Again, I get it. I’m a conservative myself, but to me this isn’t about Republicans and Democrats. This is about finding those programs which create the greatest return on investment. More than 78,000 jobs have been created through clean energy incentives in Ohio alone. That’s 78,000 people who are buying cars, homes, furniture, and so on. And at the end of the day, those incentives have very little impact on individual taxpayers. We need to show them the math so they can see it’s a pretty big bang for the buck.
Online: Energy Optimizers USA: energyoptusa.com. Environmental Entrepreneurs: www.e2.org. “Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 419-422-4545.