Government’s role is key topic at YSU forum

By Burton Speakman


The question of how active a role the government should take in the development of energy policy was a key point in Monday’s session of the Youngstown State University Sustainable Energy Forum.

The role of government in terms of sustainable energy needs to be one that is developed for and by business, said Sam Randazzo, general counsel for Industrial Energy Users of Ohio, a group of large industrial energy users.

Currently in Ohio, the state mandates that a certain percentage of energy come from sources such as solar and wind, he said. The shift to using renewable energy is paid for by fees charged to electric users, he said.

“The system we have is not very dynamic or open to innovation,” Randazzo said. “We shouldn’t be picking winners in terms of energy.”

The system that Ohio has is not sustainable in the long term, he said.

“We’re trying to move forward by looking in the rearview mirror,” Randazzo said.

But not all groups at the forum believe government has overstepped into regulation.

Ned Ford, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club, said he disagrees that Ohio law mandates the actions companies take.

“I do agree that our system is reactive, not progressive,” Ford said.

Increasing efficiency needs to be the answer, he said.

Mark Gerken, president of American Municipal Power, said his company had issues with a new regulation from the Army Corps of Engineers during the construction of two hydroelectric plants on the Ohio River. The delay caused by a new regulation forced the company to wait six months to start construction and caused an increase in the interest rate for the construction loan.

Gerken also said he questions the definitions of what constitutes clean and renewable energy.

“If energy is clean, then it’s clean. Hydro power has been forgotten because it’s an older technology, but it’s clean energy,” he said.

The state government is looking at ways to generate energy policies that protect the environment and remove unnecessary regulations, said Craig Butler, assistant policy director for energy, agriculture and environment for the office of the governor.

The forum continues today with several roundtable discussions on energy subjects.

The U.S. Department of Energy is making progress relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy, said Jason Walsh, senior adviser for energy efficiency and renewable energy with the U.S. Department of Energy.

In each year the president has been in office, there has been an increase in domestic oil and gas production, he said.

“We also set historic fuel- economy standards working with the auto industry,” Walsh said.

There also has been continued advancement in renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal, he said.

“We [Department of Energy] have a long history of government fueling innovation in partnership with the private sector,” Walsh said.

Private industry often does not have the finances to invest in energy research because it takes a long time to develop before there is any profit, he said.

Walsh noted that one example of federal investment in energy is in the development of hydraulic fracturing. The department of energy began investing in that technology in the 1970s, particularly in areas such as the development of drill bits.

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