Electricity and the Environment (from the PUCO)

Electricity and the environment

The PUCO is the sole agency charged with regulating Ohio’s electric and natural gas utilities. Because energy issues often contain an environmental component, it is essential for the PUCO to maintain strong relationships with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Ohio’s lead environmental agencies.

Energy efficiency and conservation

Energy efficiency and energy conservation both entail a reduction in the amount of energy used, and as such, both can lead to reduced energy bills. But the benefits of efficiency and conservation are not just economic–efficiency and conservation have environmental benefits as well.  All forms of electric generation have at least some impact on the environment. By reducing the amount of energy that is used, one reduces the amount of energy that must first be generated. And thus, by pursuing efficiency and/or conservation, the environmental impacts associated with energy generation can be reduced.

For more information about energy efficiency and conservation in Ohio, visit the Ohio Department Services Agency’s Office of Energy Efficiency website.

Environmental disclosure

Senate Bill 3, the legislation that restructured the Ohio electric industry, contained a provision that initiated Ohio’s environmental disclosure program. Under this program, electric generation suppliers are required to provide their customers with periodic environmental labels which indicate the generation resource mix and environmental characteristics associated with the electricity for which the customers are paying. Environmental disclosure, administered by the PUCO, is intended as a tool to assist customers as they consider their options under Ohio Electric Choice.

According to PUCO rules, generation suppliers are required to develop and distribute a projected environmental disclosure label at the beginning of each calendar year. Quarterly disclosures, comprised of comparisons between actual environmental data and the projected data, are also required in March, June, September, and December. In addition, customers who select a new electric supplier receive a copy of the company’s most recent projected environmental disclosure form at the time of enrollment.

Most of the labels are included as bill inserts, although alternative means may be used (particularly in the case of new enrollments).

Global climate change/Global warming

Global climate change, or global warming, is a complex and sometimes controversial topic. The debate centers around certain anthropogenic (man-made) gases that are believed by many to be enhancing the earth’s natural greenhouse mechanism, thereby triggering increases in global temperatures. While there are several gases of concern in this context, carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most abundant. The list of CO2 sources includes the electric industry, and it is for this reason that the PUCO is closely monitoring regulatory developments regarding global warming.

Power Siting

The OPSB, a separate agency housed within the PUCO, is responsible for reviewing and authorizing (when appropriate) the construction of certain energy facilities, including electric generating stations, electric transmission lines, and natural gas pipelines. The OPSB is required by both statute and rule to consider a number of factors, including environmental issues, during the course of its review. For additional details on power siting in Ohio, please refer to the OPSB website.

Renewable Energy Certificates

A market for Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) has emerged in the past few years and, while still in its infancy, the market is growing more prominent. Currently a customer in Ohio can purchase RECs from one of approximately a dozen different sellers across the country.

But what is a REC? In summary, it’s a means of supporting renewable generation, such as wind power or biomass or solar. Each REC represents the environmental attributes associated with a certain quantity of electricity (e.g. one megawatt-hour) from a renewable generator. By supporting renewable generation through the purchase of RECs, other forms of electric generation are subsequently displaced. Purchasing RECs, however, does not provide any assurance that the actual “green” electricity will be delivered to your home.

Customers may be able to purchase electricity that is combined (or “bundled”) with RECs, but at this point it is more likely that a customer would purchase RECs separately from a third party. The separate purchase of RECs would have no impact on your agreement with your energy supplier, nor would it impact the delivery of power to your home or facility.

Additional information on RECs is available on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) website.

Toxic release Inventory (TRI)

The TRI is essentially a reporting tool covering facility-specific releases and transfers of over 600 chemicals. Congress initiated the TRI under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), with the intention that it be both an educational resource for communities and a tool for use in emergency planning. Effective with the 1998 reporting year, several additional industries, including coal and oil-fired electric generators, were required to comply with the TRI requirements.

It is important to note that TRI data does not contain any assessment of public exposure to the chemicals nor does it assign any potential harm to the emission levels–it is purely a reporting mechanism. For additional information on the TRI, visit the OEPA TRI Web site or the USEPA TRI website.

See original PUCO article here.