EDITORIAL: Don’t lower the standards

Source: The Toldeo Blade • Posted: Friday, April 11, 2014

There is no reason to slash Ohio’s sound measures for promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency

Solar panels at the parking lot of the Toledo Musuem of Art generate power that’s used in the mseum.

Solar panels at the parking lot of the Toledo Musuem of Art generate power that’s used in the mseum.

A good state law requires Ohio utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity sales from renewable and alternative energy sources by 2025. Utilities also must adopt energy-efficiency measures aimed at cutting electricity consumption in the state by 22 percent in the same period.

Since the clean-energy law was enacted in 2008, it has helped promote an alternative-energy industry that has created more than 25,000 jobs in Ohio, and has shrunk electric bills for consumers. A measure passed two years ago affirmed and strengthened the earlier law.

These positive outcomes evidently displease the Republican state senators who want to freeze the standards in the clean-energy law at their current, incomplete levels — the first step toward killing them. These lawmakers’ fealty to profit-seeking utilities that don’t want to be regulated, as well as fossil-fuel companies and big industrial power users, exceeds their concern for job creation, a cleaner environment, improved public health, or their constituents’ pocketbooks.

The clean-energy law divides the 25-percent electricity benchmark into equal parts: 12.5 percent from renewable sources such as solar and wind energy, and the other 12.5 percent from advanced sources such as fuel cells, clean coal, and nuclear power. Half the renewable electricity must be generated within Ohio.

The Republican freeze would limit the renewable mandate to 2.5 percent, and would eliminate the alternative-energy requirement entirely. It also would cut the mandated 22-percent reduction in electricity use through energy efficiency to just 4.2 percent.

For now, anyway: The measure would set up a commission to “study” whether the standards should be relaxed even more. Then lawmakers would have to enact new, inevitably weaker, standards.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Troy Balderson (R., Zanesville) says there is “no certainty” about the benefits of the clean-energy law. How about 400 new advanced-energy businesses in Ohio, in an industry that grew rapidly even during the Great Recession? A study by Ohio State University concludes the law has cut electric bills, electricity demand, and emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

By contrast, Ohio State researchers project that eliminating the standards in the law would cost households, small businesses, and other electricity customers nearly $4 billion in higher rates.

The clean-energy law exempts utilities from the renewable mandate if the cost of compliance increases consumers’ bills by 3 percent. That provision has never been invoked.

Nor are businesses universally clamoring for relief from the standards. To the contrary, several large Ohio manufacturers and energy companies — including Owens Corning — affirmed their support for the clean-energy law this week. These companies, which have nearly 30,000 employees in the state, claim that undermining the law’s standards would be “wrong for Ohio, and its residents and businesses.”

Ohio’s clean-energy law is hardly revolutionary; 28 other states have similar — and sometimes tougher — standards for renewable energy, and 19 other states maintain standards for energy efficiency. Any effort by Columbus to dismantle the current standards will send the message to businesses and investors that our state is moving in reverse.

Ohio voters should get that message as well: A survey conducted last year by Yale University found most Ohioans support a strong renewable-energy standard.

The effort to gut the clean-energy law appears to be on a fast track in the General Assembly, as lawmakers provide an election-year reminder of whom they really work for. Gov. John Kasich has expressed a degree of skepticism, at least in private, about past efforts by legislators of his party to wreck the law. He needs to be ready to do so again.