- by Nathan Johnson, Buckeye Forest Council

News broke on January 30th that Todd Snitchler, chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) was a keynote speaker at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) task-force meeting in April 2011. As many readers know, ALEC has been aggressively pushing for the repeal of renewable energy standards at state legislatures across the country. The PUCO determines whether Ohio-based energy projects, including biomass projects, receive renewable energy certification entitling them to renewable energy credits and satisfaction of the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

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Moreover, local news reports recently revealed that Chairman Snitchler’s Twitter account is rife with statements and re-tweets evidencing a deep hostility towards all things green and renewable energy.

Highlights include Snitchler retweeting a story titled "Elites of West have cranked up myth of Global Warming" from the Russian newspaper Pravda, calling it "interesting;" tweeting that, "clean-energy aid racks up losses" and "the Himalayas and nearby peaks have lost no ice in past 10 years, study shows"; and retweeting "electric cars pose environmental threat," ''after Sandy no one lined up for wind turbines," and that the "'green' religion is taking over from Christian religion."

The discovery of Snitchler’s tweets comes at an interesting time. Snitchler joined a 3-1 vote in late January rejecting American Electric Power's proposal to incorporate power from the Turning Point Solar Project into its renewable energy portfolio. The vote ignored the advice of commission staff and is likely to kill the Turning Point Project which, at 50 megawatts, would have been one of the largest solar arrays east of the Mississippi.

The Ohio Public Utilities Commission is currently considering updates to several of its rules, including rules relating to public disclosure. The public comment period for the PUCO’s proposed rule package ended on February 6th. The Buckeye Forest Council (BFC) submitted comments that highlight the lack of transparency found in the PUCO’s biomass-related disclosure requirements.

Currently, utilities operating in Ohio are required to disclose to their customers the types and amounts of fuel used to generate the electricity they sell in the state. Unfortunately, the PUCO’s current rules only require that utilities disclose biomass fuel sources under a monolithic, catch-all category called “biomass power.”

BFC’s comments point out that greater transparency is already required by the Generation Attributes Tracking System (GATS), with which Ohio utilities are currently required to register and report. For example, GATS tracks and discloses biomass resource mix under at least eight separate categories:

• Wood: Black Liquor

• Wood: Paper Pellets, Railroad Ties, Utility Poles, Wood Chips, and other wood solids

• Wood: Red Liquor, Sludge Wood, Spent Sulfite Liquor, and other wood related liquids not specified

• Other Biomass: Digester Gas, Methane, and other biomass gases

• Other Biomass: Ethanol, Fish Oil, Liquid Acetonitrile Waste, Medical Waste, Tall Oil, Waste Alcohol, and other biomass liquids not specified

• Other Biomass: Both Animal Manure and Waste, Solid Byproducts, and other solid biomass not specified

• Other Biomass: Sludge Waste

• Solid Waste: Municipal Solid Waste

In addition, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) tracks state-by state biomass mix generation under at least two separate categories: “Wood and Wood Derived Fuels” and “Other Biomass.” In short, information regarding biomass fuel mix is readily available and in fact required reporting for Ohio utilities via GATS. The PUCO needs to catch up and require more in-depth disclosure of biomass fuel mixture to Ohio’s energy consumers.