Ohio climate coalition pitches partnership with city of Wooster

WOOSTER − Sarah Spence had a simple pitch for the crowd of nearly 50 people at First Presbyterian Church Thursday evening: Urge Wooster City Council to join Power Clean Future Ohio to create a clean energy and energy-efficient municipality.

"People usually ask the question, 'What's the catch?'" said Spence, executive director of the Ohio Conservative Energy Forum, one of PCFO's 68 Ohio partners ranging from chambers of commerce to nonprofits. "But there is no catch, it is free to join Power Clean Future Ohio."

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The coalition was invited to Wooster by event cosponsors, including the Wooster/Orrville NAACP, the Wooster InterFaith Justice Committee and the Wooster Chapter of Citizens' Climate Lobby.

Power Clean Future Ohio's primary goal, Spence said, is to be a free technical, policy and funding resource for local governments that want to reduce their carbon footprint.

"Cities occupy only 2% of the land but make up nearly 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions," said Spence, a former legislative director for the 4th Senate District. "We work with local governments because they are the closest to the people and are the most responsive."

Funding assistance and policy recommendations

Founded in February of 2020, the coalition has expanded to work with nearly three dozen Ohio communities ranging in size from nearly 3,000 people to 300,000.

The two nearest PCFO communities to Wooster are Canton and the City of Green.

Since its founding, Deputy Director of PCFO Cassandra Clevenger said the coalition urges local governments to prioritize clean energy.

"(Local governments) are busy and have a lot of things to do, so this often gets left behind," she said. That's where PCFO steps in with existing policy recommendations and funding assistance.

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Clevenger acknowledges electric vehicles can be expensive and difficult to come by.

"I'm looking for a new car, but a hybrid or EV is hard to find on my budget," she said.

While individuals may not be able to afford an eco-friendly car, local governments can use state and federal dollars to purchase a new vehicle fleet, solar panels or charging stations.

Clevenger's team pulled together state and federal grants and funding opportunities into a single database called IGAP, or Infrastructure Grant Assistance Program, which is free to use for participating governments, she said.

Crafting helpful legislation can also be tricky, Clevenger said.

While Lima successfully installed floating solar panels in the city's wastewater facility, she said, the city of Granville drafted solar panel legislation that would have "harmed residents."

"So they reached out to PCFO to work with us on new legislation," she said.

Her goal, she said, is to create solutions-based legislation and discussions between communities and lawmakers.

Climate crisis concerns are on the rise

Spence said more Ohioans and Wayne County residents believe climate change is a real problem.

Citing data from Yale University, 63% of people in Wayne County believe global warming is happening, compared to 68% of Ohioans and 74% of U.S. adults.

Across Ohio, she said, over half of adults believe climate change is caused primarily by human activities, is affecting current weather patterns and will hurt future generations.

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"One thing I find interesting is that only 42% of Ohioans believe global warming will personally harm them," Spence said. "I can tell you that I'm Zyrtec twice-a-day person, it's making allergies worse."

As climate change continues to worsen, each region in Ohio will experience new and different impacts.

In Northwest Ohio near Toledo, warmer water temperatures, increased pollution runoff and higher rainfall have increased Lake Erie's algal blooms, causing water toxicity crises in the region, according to studies including one from the University of Michigan

Increased rainfall and flooding will require new sanitation systems costing millions of dollars, she said, while many schools will need air conditioning upgrades.

Ozone pollution will exacerbate asthma and respiratory illnesses, Spence said.

What can municipalities do about climate change?

Both Clevenger and Spence listed a few options for local city governments.

Alongside joining PCFO, they said, aiming for a net zero carbon footprint for buildings, like Athens County's solar EMS station, is a good start. Switching gas-powered vehicles and public transportation to electric is another option.

Some communities opt for more trees and green spaces, including an expanded tree canopy in downtown spaces.

"Greenhouse gas inventories can help communities determine how big their carbon footprint is and where they can save money," Clevenger said. "Dayton discovered 14% of the city's greenhouse gases came from municipal sources," so they introduced clean energy policies to be more energy-efficient.

Would taxpayers see taxes rise because of clean energy policies?

Spence said residents would not see taxes rise if Wooster implemented clean energy policies. It's the cheaper and more efficient option.

In 2021, the cost of producing a megawatt-hour of electricity from a new wind turbine was $26 to $50. The same amount of electricity from the cheapest type of natural gas plant ranged from $45 to $74, USA TODAY reported in July, citing Lazard, a financial advisory firm that publishes annual estimates of the cost of producing electricity.

"Residents would see all energy costs go down," Spence said after the event.

To learn more about PCFO, visit poweracleanfuture.org.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: Ohio climate coalition pitches partnership with city of Wooster