No other state is a better example of the sophisticated effort to undermine clean energy than Ohio. In Columbus, we’ve examined how powerful House Majority Leader Bill Seitz leads these efforts with support from fossil fuel lobbyists from the statehouse. But what’s happening in the capital is just part of the story.
Take Seneca County, for example. Located in north-central Ohio, the county is 553 square miles, 80% of which is agricultural land. The population in 2017 was 55,711 with 107 people per square mile.
Seneca County Commission President Mike Kerschner (pictured below) was a supporter of wind energy development, along with the other two commission members. Then, on June 5, 2018, Kerschner made a motion at a meeting of the board to revoke authorization for an Alternative Energy Zone that provided incentives for wind projects in Seneca County.
An examination of public records obtained by Checks and Balances Project shows that Kerschner, in the weeks leading up to his motion, was the target of anti-wind propaganda supported by or aligned with the interests of oil, natural gas, and coal companies.
In an email written on June 4 to his fellow commissioners and a wind energy development executive, Kerschner wrote:
“The potential income is too high for the angst and fear — whether well founded or not… It’s not because of the noise or flicker or any of that, it is because it is tearing at the very fabric of the community pitting neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend and it is breaking my heart.” — Kerschner
Seneca Anti-Wind’s Chris Aichholz
The primary messenger of the propaganda campaign was Chris Aichholz, (in yellow shirt), a leader of the Seneca Anti-Wind Union.
- May 16: Aichholz sends the Seneca County commissioners a letter to the editor of the News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Indiana, from Jeremy Kitson of Citizens for Clear Skies, from Van Wert County, Ohio. Kitson writes: “I haven’t even touched on the false narrative perpetuated by the wind industry and how it’s saving the Earth. I have plenty of science that proves that is plainly false.”
- May 17: Aichholz emails the commissioners a Forbes article, If Renewables Are So Great for the Environment, Why Do They Keep Destroying It? The article was written by Michael Shellenberger, a pro-nuclear activist who once represented the administration of then-Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
- May 23: Aichholz forwards to the commissioners a “study” titled The True Cost of Energy: Wind by Randy Simmons and Ryan Yonk of Strata, an organization funded by Koch Industries. Simmon’s ties to the Kochs were subsequently examined by the Washington Post. In 2015, Checks and Balances Project talked with Simmons and he admitted his funding.
- March 23: Aichholz emails a post by National Wind Watch, another national anti-wind group. Tom Stacy, a board member since 2010, has ties to the Heartland Institute, the fossil fuel-funded think tank behind controversial attacks on climate science and renewable energy policies.
- June 9: Aichholz forwards an article from the Center of American Experiment, a Minnesota-based “think tank” whose director of operations has written, “Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere ’greens’ the planet and helps feed the growing human population.”
- June 18: Aichholz sends a blog post from Master Resource, a “free market” forum. Its principals are primarily from the fossil fuel industry.
A poll conducted by Ohio Conservative Energy Forum in Jan. 2018 showed that 76 percent of voters support setback limits for wind projects that will allow wind energy investment to occur in rural Ohio while protecting individual landowner’s rights to lease their land for wind projects with 76 percent support. Nearly four-in-five conservative voters in Ohio (79 percent) said they would tell a Republican candidate to support policies that encourage energy efficiency and greater use of renewable energy in the state.
But for Mike Kerschner, none of that was as powerful as the propaganda and fear whipped up by climate deniers and the fossil fuel industry.
Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from sustainable economy philanthropies and donors.
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