Late last month, Republican leaders of a legislative study committee recommended that a current two-year-long freeze on the standards should be extended indefinitely. The standards, passed in 2008, give utility companies in Ohio until 2026 to slash customers’ power usage by 22 percent and get 12.5 percent of their power from solar, wind, and other renewable sources.
If the mandates are left in place, the GOP study group’s report asserted, they will cost ratepayers almost $2 billion and increase the state’s unemployment rate by 10 percent.
These claims came from a single study done by a group of free-market professors at Utah State University and a non-profit think tank called Strata. Some of the authors have testified against energy mandates in several states and have received funding from the Koch Brothers, prominent conservative donors who oppose renewable energy incentives.
The study’s authors reached their conclusions after looking at all 31 states with energy mandates and finding that, overall, their economies suffered after they were put into effect.
Pro-renewable activists say that conclusion is flawed because more than a third of those states – including Ohio – passed their mandates between 2007-09, right before or during the global financial crisis. The Utah State study, critics say, unfairly places all the blame on the energy mandates instead of the unrelated nationwide recession.
But Ryan Yonk, the lead author of the report, defended the report’s methodology, saying he and his co-authors designed their calculations to minimize the effect of the recession and other outside economic factors.
They were able to do that, Yonk said, by examining the economic conditions of each state with an energy mandate for four years before and four years after they were passed, then using that data to create a statistical benchmark.
As for criticism about the professors’ conservative donors, Yonk said they get funding from a “variety” of places, including the U.S. Department of Energy and several banks.
The donors don’t control the studies they do, Yonk said. And while he and his colleagues “approach the world from a market-based perspective,” Yonk said, they release their findings whether or not they differ from their initial suppositions.
“We don’t engage in research for sale,” he said. “Where the data leads us is where we end up.”