If Ohio eases green-energy rules, will it spark national trend?

Source: By Dan Gearino, Columbus Post Dispatch • Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ohio is on the cusp of becoming the first state to significantly ease its renewable-energy standards, a milestone that would be noticed in statehouses across the country where similar debates are being waged.
Proposals have gained traction in Kansas and several other states and have at least been introduced in a dozen or so others.

But none has had as much success as Ohio’s Senate Bill 310, which haspassed the Senate and appears poised to pass the House as soon as this week.

The Ohio bill would place a two-year freeze on annual increases in standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency. It also would repeal a rule that says utilities must buy half of their renewable energy from in-state sources and would make it easier for utilities to buy low-cost hydroelectric power and count it toward the standards.

Many of the same groups with an interest in the subject are active in multiple states. The American Wind Energy Association, Sierra Club and others are fighting to maintain rules that say utilities must obtain a certain amount of their energy from renewable sources. Meanwhile, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, and Americans for Prosperity are helping to push for change in the rules.

The players disagree on whether the apparent support for the Ohio bill is based on state-specific factors or represents the beginning of a trend that will take hold in other places.

“I wouldn’t call it a trend,” said Chelsea Barnes, research analyst at Keyes, Fox & Wiedman, a law firm that represents clean-energy clients with offices in California and North Carolina. “ Ohio is an outlier.”

The fact that so many states are exploring changes to their rules is a sign that the rules are flawed, said Mike O’Neal, president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. He was one of the leading supporters of a bill that passed the Kansas Senate last year before being defeated in the House.

“I would tend to think that if there’s a state that pulls back successfully, that there will be more of an impetus to do that in other states,” he said.

Yesterday, Americans for Prosperity issued a statement supporting the Ohio bill. The national conservative group, financed in part by billionaires David and Charles Koch, has supported similar proposals in other states but has not been active on the Ohio plan until now.

Ohio is among a group that includes 29 states and the District of Columbia that have renewable-energy requirements, which have helped to increase the market for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

Ohio also is one of 22 states that have energy-efficiency rules, which provide incentives to encourage customers to reduce their electricity use. (Indiana repealed its efficiency standard in March, becoming the first and only state to do so.)

The state laws were almost all passed in the 2000s; Ohio’s renewable and energy-efficiency rules were both part of Senate Bill 221 in 2008.

Barnes’ firm tracks activity in each state and has identified 13 types of proposed changes to the laws that have tended to recur. They range from a complete repeal of renewable-energy rules to provisions that expand the types of energy that count as renewable. Senate Bill 310 includes at least six of those types of changes.

The various state proposals are often similar because the same outside groups are helping to write them, Barnes said.

“It’s been mostly ALEC behind a lot of it,” she said. “Even if it’s not copied and pasted from their suggested policy language, the intent is the same.”

ALEC brings together state legislators and corporate leaders to write legislation that works for “limited government, free markets, and federalism,” according to the organization’s website. Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, one of the leading backers of the Ohio bill, is an ALEC board member.

Seitz said S.B. 310 is the result of discussions within Ohio in response to Ohio law, and is not the result of actions by outside players.

“It is a little ridiculous to try to drag ALEC into this,” he said.