Conference Analyzes Northeast Ohio’s Energy Use

Kate Melanson

Last October U.S. Representative for Ohio’s Ninth District Marcy Kaptur secured a National Energy Technology Laboratory Award of $1.1 million to assess the ways in which energy is used in northeast Ohio. On Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, a conference was held at Oberlin College to present the findings financed by this award.

As College’s Paul Sears Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, David Orr, explained via e-mail, “The goal [of the conference] was to report back to the public about one year of work to assemble a regional energy plan focused on the 9th Congressional District and targeting renewable energy and efficiency improvements.”

Northern Ohio’s Clean Energy Future Conference started in the morning with an introduction from Orr. The morning session focused mostly on advanced energy systems while the afternoon talks looked at the business aspects of sustainability. Speakers in all sessions ranged from locally to nationally known figures and presented attendees with a variety of views and approaches.

Jessica Minor, the managing director of the award, said, “I think that it was great that we had a national speaker come from D.C., Bracken Hendricks, who deals with policy, so he was able to give the bigger picture for the U.S. And then we had Hunter Morrison who was from northeast Ohio and talking about how we need to work together in the area, so I think it was interesting to have both of those speakers.”

Presenters also represented a range of businesses, from nationwide companies such as Sherwin-Williams and PolyOne Corporation to local Elyria-based company Ross Environmental Services. While each company has a different client base, all three stressed the “triple bottom line” in their business plans for sustainability. They defined this concept as “sustainability for people, planet and profit,” or a combination of social accountability, environmental responsibility and economic growth.

The business and energy presentations at the conference all related to the aims of the Oberlin Project. Director of Environmental Studies John Petersen said via e-mail, “One of the core objectives of the Oberlin Project is to develop a collaborative community around issues of environmental stewardship within Oberlin and the surrounding region and another core objective is to develop a model that inspires others. This conference served important functions with respect to both of these goals.”

Students popped in and out of events throughout the day, some just curious to know what was going on and some hoping to make connections.

College sophomore Maggie Heraty said, “I’ll be working on researching the energy monitoring system that’s going to be used in the Oberlin Project, so I was really excited to be here and learn about what’s going on [with] this area that I’ll be researching about directly.”

College junior Eliana Golding went in with an activist’s mindset.

“I consider myself an environmental activist, particularly around transit issues,” said Golding. “But also I just want to know what’s going on in northeast Ohio and in Oberlin so I can be a responsible activist. I’m not living here forever, but I am here for a little bit of time and I’m a part of the environmental activism community. It’s important to be educated and know what’s going on, so it’s important for me to be here.”

The day of speeches and panels ended with the government’s take on the activities occurring around the state in terms of energy development. Beth Thames, deputy state director for Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, stressed the need for the U.S. to drastically reduce its dependence on imported energy sources. Thames pointed to the construction of wind turbines on Lake Erie and carbon sequestration projects in central Ohio as examples of how the state is working to stay at the forefront of clean energy development.

In her speech, Congresswoman Kaptur insisted, “Our chief impediment to economic growth [in Ohio] is the price of energy.”

She stressed that dependence on out-of-state energy is detrimental to Ohio businesses. Kaptur also named Oberlin as a forward-thinking city that recognizes the key connection between energy and jobs.

As the conference drew to a close, Minor seemed pleased with the turnout of both town residents and College students and the content of the talks.

“I hope that [the conference has] been impactful for all that have attended,” said Minor, “and that students from the College and folks from the City of Oberlin have felt that they’ve been well represented and that they enjoyed what they had to hear.”