Crossroads of energy infrastructure
Technology comes together in Seneca
In western Ohio, the dominant energy technology is from utility-scale wind and solar power.
In eastern Ohio, the main technology is extracting natural gas by fracking shale.
In Seneca County, they come together in a unique way, said Dale Arnold, director of energy, utility and local government policy for Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
As he understands the federal government’s energy policy, Arnold said President Donald Trump means to allow new and old technology to compete equally.
“Mr. Trump is a business man,” Arnold said. “He wants, I feel, a level playing field, which means this: He’s taking a look at all the different energy types. A tremendous amount of technology is happening with each one of these.
“He’s wiping the slate clean and giving them all an equal amount of opportunity to compete,” he said. “The technology that fits our needs that are able to compete get to stay, and those that do not will go by the wayside.”
Rapid state of transition
As energy policy changes at the national level, Arnold said the energy industry in Ohio — and particularly in Seneca County — is in a rapid state of transition.
“Seneca County could be part of what you would call that level playing field or that clean slate,” he said. “You’re seeing it all.”
Arnold said he’s been working with landowners in Seneca County who are dealing with negotiations on wind, solar and pipeline projects as well as electric transmission lines and oil and gas leases.
“You’re dealing with every type of infrastructure with the exception of coal,” he said. “It’s almost like you’re at the crossroads.”
He said the county’s geographical location is where east meets west.
“You’re right smack dab in the middle,” he said. “People there need to accommodate all sides of the spectrum.”
To that end, Arnold said, he’s been working with individuals, groups and local government to educate them about negotiating energy leases.
“Also, a number of energy service providers who are looking at wanting to create infrastructure in Seneca County,” he said.
He said his job is to explain to the landowners and government officials the company’s stance on energy matters, and to explain to the companies the needs of farmers and landowners.
“We need to get an education to business people, and an understanding and appreciation of farmland owners,” he said. “Energy providers are starting to understand what it means to go across farm ground.”
on the horizon
Arnold said landowners must make themselves familiar with energy company needs, and farmers should think of the energy companies as business partners.
Arnold said current pipeline projects — such as Rover and Utopia — are only the beginning, and landowners would be wise to educate themselves and learn negotiation skills.
“You’re going to see a lot of this,” he said. “What you learn now working with one energy service provider on one project is going to serve you extremely well because you’re going to see other projects coming through Seneca County.”
He said some landowners tend to sit back and hope the issue is going to go away.
“The earlier and more often people get involved with those things, the better the outcome,” he said. “Some in Seneca County got involved too late (on projects now in process) and some of their options were curtailed.”
And those companies are actively planning projects — eight of them at last count.
Along with Rover and Utopia pipelines, he said there are three or four electric transmission line projects under way.
In addition, he said the Republic Wind project plans are ongoing as well as two more companies evaluating the county for two wind projects.
And three companies are contacting landowners about oil and gas leases.
“That gives you some idea about all the activity going on (in Seneca County),” he said. “Over the next 10 to 15 years, a lot of projects are going to be considered. The number on the table there in Seneca County, that’s what’s big there. Do the math. Not all will come to fruition, but some will.”
Arnold’s advice is to hire legal counsel familiar with negotiating energy leases and easements.
“There’s no such thing as a group lease or a group contract,” he said. “They’re all individual leases.”
By the time a landowner is contacted about a group information meeting, Arnold said the potential project has been in the planning stages for 18-24 months.
He doesn’t think any of Trump’s policy changes are going to alter projects being considered.
“They’re all there in the county and they’re all growing,” he said. “Trump signed some executive orders that had to do with taking a look at (Environmental Protection Agency) and reviewing them. He didn’t erase those regulations, but they’re being reviewed. He’s put coal basically back on the table, and he’s leveled the playing field.”
Arnold said Trump wants to offer tax credits and economic stimulus packages to all types of energy producers on an equal basis.
“He is a business man. He understands business,” Arnold said. “But business and government are two different things. He’s trying to find and corroborate those things.
“I wish him success in trying to find strategies where all of those things can be accommodated,” he said.
“He’s not dictating, but he is setting up an atmosphere, an opportunity, a level of responsibility,” he added. “You’re going to compete with other technologies and work with other people. And you’re going to have to do this so it’s beneficial at the community level.”
As fossil fuels get an equal part of the level playing field, some people are concerned about global climate change and the United States meeting its commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
Arnold said Trump’s policy is to review ideas that have been in place for several years.
“Energy development is not a straight line,” Arnold said. “It’s a circle and discussions have a tendency to circle back in on themselves. (Trump) is bringing to the forefront the need to re-explore. He has set in motion a tremendous amount of discussion on these issues.”
Effects of climate change
Amy Berger, professor of geology at Heidelberg University, said the uncertainty of Trump’s policies causes her concern about long-term effects of climate change.
Although she isn’t a climate change scientist, Berger said she has a general knowledge of the topic as a geologist.
“We’re looking at the fastest warming period on record since 600,000 years ago,” she said. “Rapid climate change is a major cause of species extinction.”
The amount of warming may seem miniscule, but she said it’s significant. She said it’s imperative that the world prevent a 2-degree overall warming by the year 2100.
“If we get beyond a 2-degree warming, it would be seriously bad because we couldn’t counteract it,” she said.
To that end, Berger said world representatives met in 2015 to negotiate the Paris Accord.
“It was sort of a beginning to try to avoid that threshold,” she said. “The U.S. agreed to change emission rules for power plants, increase fuel economy for cars, decrease methane leaks and improve appliance efficiency.
“The other thing the Paris Accord did was increase transparency of what they could do,” she said. “Wealthy countries would provide finances to help less wealthy countries.”
If nothing was done about climate change, Berger said the world would be 2.7 degrees warmer by the end of this century.
“Without any action we’re looking at some fairly substantial changes,” she said.
The effects already are being seen with longer summer seasons with more extremely hot days. She said warmer temperatures put more stress on growing crops, and warmer winters mean more pests survive through the winter.
She said changes also have been seen in the intensity of rain storms.
“It looks like they’re changing to earlier in the growing season,” she said. “Warming means a lot more heavy rains in some years and a lot more droughts.”
Berger said the United States is the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, behind China.
“Per person, we emit more than double what people in China do,” she said. “We really should do something to fix it because the consequences could be dire.”
That’s where policy uncertainty becomes an issue.
Trump’s policies to change emission regulations for coal-fired plants could be detrimental along with lifting a moratorium on extracting coal from federal land.
“It feels a little bit like the first volley in his policies to dismantle the climate policies,” she said.
“As a geologist, I sort of think long term, but as a citizen we’re trained to think short term,” she said.
Politicians must run short term to retain their positions, which can be detrimental to thinking long term.
“We have to be incredibly far sighted,” she said. “We’re trying to correct something that most of us won’t see the worst of. It draws on our sense of moral obligation to the future.
“We’re not politically, morally or economically set up that way,” she said.
While large companies often have a future plan in mind, individuals don’t.
“You’re not concerned about what your grandchildren might be facing,” she said. “It’s not the sort of thing that comes to mind immediately. How does what we do affect the world they’re going to live in?”
Berger re-told a folk story. She said she doesn’t know how factual it is, but it illustrates the point she wants to make.
“If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it immediately jumps out,” she said. “But if you put the frog in the water, and then heat the water, he boils. It doesn’t recognize that change is happening.”