Ohio GOP bill to freeze efficiency and green energy rules racing toward Gov. John Kasich’s desk

Source: By John Funk, The Plain Dealer • Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2014


COLUMBUS — The GOP blitzkrieg against Ohio’s energy efficiency and green energy mandates has resumed, moving at a pace that could throw the hot potato into Gov. John Kasich’s lap within a week.

The key question then, critics of the bill say: Will Kasich be willing to become the first governor to cripple both his state’s renewable energy and efficiency standards, or to sit by without his veto pen while lawmakers do it?

Backers of the bill would phrase it differently: Will Kasich take the necessary step to loosen energy mandates that are strangling the economic recovery?

Current law requires that 12.5 percent of the electricity a power company sells by 2025 to have been generated by wind, solar or other renewable means.

As approved last week by the Senate and now pending in the Ohio House, the bill would simply freeze all mandates through 2016 while lawmakers study the issues.

But last-minute language changes in the bill before the Senate’s early-Thursday-morning approval a week ago contain a series of “poison pills,” say opponents, designed to halt wind and solar for good and stymie further customer energy efficiency programs while enabling utilities to get paid extra for upgrades they already have to make.

“Substitute SB 310 is vastly different from – and much more damaging to Ohio’s advanced energy industry and consumers – than even the original bill,” said Ted Ford, president and CEO of Ohio Advanced Energy Economy, in a statement accompanying an analysis. “It’s unfortunate that the Senate fielded no public testimony on this version of the bill.”

In an interview Tuesday, Ford explained, “A lot of the things that appeared late that night are clearly poison pills, clearly meant to devastate the industry even during the pause.”

“A lot of the things that appeared late that night are clearly poison pills, clearly meant to devastate the industry even during the pause”: Ted Ford

One example, he said, is new language that would enable a utility to scrap its long-term agreement to buy power from a wind farm or solar array if there are any changes in the future state laws about renewable energy.

Wind and solar developers use these long-term purchase agreements as collateral when they apply for bank loans to build their projects.

“They won’t be able to finance any projects with that language in the law,” he said.

The bill also would eliminate the “in-state” requirement that half of the wind and solar power would have to be generated in Ohio. And it opens the door, once again as a failed bill tried last winter, to allow utilities to satisfy the law with the purchase of cheap Canadian hydro power.

Developers have spent more than $1 billion to build wind and solar projects in Ohio since the state created the renewable standard in 2008, said Dayna Baird Payne, spokeswoman for wind developers. The state has approved 10 projects and so far two have been built. And they will not likely be built during the next three years if the law is passed as written, she said.

Senators also in the last hours of debate a week ago added language that will sap further growth in utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs, said Ford, by allowing utilities to count upgrades they would have had to make to their wires just to meet federal standards.

The House public utilities committee today plans to hear testimony from Ford and others who want the bill re-written to weed out the late-night additions made in the Senate.

On Tuesday, the committee heard well over a dozen groups and individuals in favor of the freeze. Some of those speaking made it clear they just do not want wind turbine farms near them. Others, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, testified that the law as it now stands is costing ratepayers too much money.

Frank Strigari, chief legal counsel of the Ohio Senate, spoke for the bill’s sponsor Sen. Troy Balderson, a Republican from Zanesville, who could not attend.

Rep. Kevin Boyce, former state treasurer and now a Democrat from Columbus serving on the committee, asked where the utilities stand on the issue.  Strigari said that because the utilities did not testify there was no way to know what their position was.

With the bill headed for a full vote of the House as soon as next week, the focus is already beginning to move toward Kasich.

The governor is said to have insisted on the standards automatically coming back into law in 2017 rather than an earlier version of the bill that would have left the resurrection of the mandates up to future lawmakers.

Kasich has made a few vague public statements in the past that the current law perhaps goes too far and needs a review.

But — except for a joint general statement with Sen. President Keith Faber and only appearing on the Senate website last week — the governor has not addressed the specifics of the pending Senate Bill 310.

That joint statement does not address specifics of the bill and does not address energy efficiency mandates at all.

“The well-intentioned strategy developed in 2008 to encourage alternative energy generation mandated levels which are now emerging as a challenge to job creation and Ohio’s economic recovery,” the statement reads in part. “They are simply unrealistic and will drive up energy costs for job creators and consumers.”