Sure, let’s re-evaluate Ohio’s green energy law — as long as we do it right

March 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Sure, let’s re-evaluate Ohio’s green energy law — as long as we do it right

Blog entry: March 22, 2013, 8:41 am   |   Author: WILLIAM BOWEN

The recently announced plan by state Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, to evaluate SB 221 — the law governing the state’s renewable-energy and energy-efficiency mandates — could be an excellent idea.

In my view, if citizens and political leadership throughout Ohio were to call for more public policy evaluations, less money would be wasted on inefficient and ineffective policies and programs. Also, levels of trust in government would be higher, and we as corporate and individual citizens would be richer and happier.

But public policy evaluations are a good idea if, and only if, they are designed thoughtfully and conducted in a transparent, honest, thorough and impartial way.

Best practices for policy evaluation are widely known and taught in graduate programs and courses in public policy throughout the country. They prescribe an explicit, systematic and fact-based approach to the full range of evidence about not only total costs, but total benefits as well as effects on overall efficiency, demand and alternative energy resource provision.

For Sen. Seitz’s evaluation to follow best practices, it will have to start by making its purpose and objectives clear and direct. It will explicitly stipulate the full range of standards or expectations written into the policy, and against which the evidence will be evaluated. It then will systematically and impartially gather evidence as to whether the relevant outcomes or effects of the policy have met these standards or expectations.

The initial compliance year for SB 221′s phased-in requirements was 2009, so a full evaluation is somewhat premature. It will take longer than this for firms acting in response to the legislation to formulate new plans, assemble capital, select locations, develop supply chains, build industrial plants, and the like. Only once the complete industrial responses to the enacted law have become fully operational will the full benefits become discernable.

Nevertheless, it undoubtedly will be possible to gather a great deal of information and evidence already from similar policies in other states, national statistics, academic research, and consultation with stakeholders.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) at North Carolina State University can provide a wealth of useful information about the history and effects of similar policies in other states. Also, it will be important to include a thorough review of the growing body of state-of-the-art research about similar policies available in high-quality academic research journals such as Energy Policy, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews and The Electricity Journal.

While a responsible evaluation of SB 221 could bring significant potential benefits for Ohioans, were an evaluation done shoddily — or as a political tactic, or in a biased manner designed to help create a façade of legitimacy for the preconceived positions of those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo — it could do a real disservice and possibly cause considerable harm.

An irresponsible evaluation of SB 221 could, among other things, have the effect of misleading people who are uneducated or misinformed about the policy, causing them to believe in falsehoods.

It could, under the guise of objectivity, effectively prevent the public from knowing the truth about the energy future and circumstances we in Ohio currently face. It could help companies with entrenched interests in the status quo make enormous profits from greedy schemes that disregard the value of public-mindedness, or of the effects on future generations. It could divert time, energy, attention and resources that would otherwise be available for things that are real, such as health care, school funding, and the state budget. And by reinforcing the public’s belief that politicians are self-interested and beholden to special interests, it could tend to degenerate and further erode some of the bedrock values upon which our democracy is based.

In principle, the idea of evaluating SB 221 is an excellent if possibly somewhat premature one. But at the same time, I encourage everyone involved to inform themselves about best practices for the design and conduct of policy evaluation, to understand the purpose and objectives of the legislation, and to make sure that its evaluation is intelligently designed, impartially conducted and accurately reported at every step along the way.

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