Ohio renewable energy policies spurred growth, now driving away business, report says

Source: By Jackie Borchardt, Northeast Ohio Media Group  • Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Utilities are working to meet new standards on renewables

A new study says Ohio was a leader in encouraging renewable energy growth but is sliding backward due to uncertainty from state lawmakers. New capacity and investment in wind energy went from No. 13 in the country to none, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts report. (LM Otero/AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s renewable energy policies sparked tremendous investment in the industry, but recent moves by state lawmakers have slowed that growth and threaten its future, according to a report released Tuesday.

Ohio was No. 13 in the country for new capacity and private investment in wind at the end of 2012, according to the Pew report. However, new investment halted in 2013 because of “uncertainty” created by legislative debate over Ohio’s renewable energy standards and the expiration of a federal production tax credit, according to the report.

The report from The Pew Charitable Trusts examined the industry’s growth following 2008 state incentives for utilities to seek renewable sources and after state lawmakers began talking about eliminating the renewable energy standards in 2013. Read the report below.

In June 2014, Gov. John Kasich signed into law legislation freezing a requirement that utility companies sell more electricity from renewable sources of energy and making it easier for companies to opt out of energy efficiency programs. The renewable energy standard required utilities to get 12.5 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Lynn Abramson, senior associate at Pew, said investment is expected to drop off further in the next two years, while lawmakers examine the benefits and costs of the renewable energy standards, and might not recover if businesses don’t return to the state. Abramson said the study did not take into account another 2014 legislative change increasing the distance new wind turbines must be constructed from a neighboring property line.

In 2012, about $750 million was invested in wind and solar projects, according to the report. In 2013, none was invested in wind and investment in solar and other projects totaled less than $100 million. Assuming the energy standards are restored for 2016, the Pew study estimates investment will climb to nearly $400 million annually.

Pew presented its study Tuesday morning in Columbus with a panel of Ohio renewable energy businessmen. Alan Frasz, president of Dovetail Solar and Wind, said the standards freeze and wind turbine restrictions have killed the wind industry in Ohio.

Frasz said he used to get calls every few months from state officials in the development department about how they could help him grow his Ohio-founded business. Frasz said he’s received zero phone calls in the last two years.

“I felt like we were led down a path and then our legs were chopped out from under us,” Frasz said.

Christopher Nelson, CEO of WHE Generation, which harnesses wasted heat and energy byproducts into usable power, said Ohio lacks predictability in its policies, which is driving down investment.

“We’re not looking necessarily for handouts from the government to run our company. What we do want is stability, predictability for the future so we can know and we can judge moving forward where we can best grow our business and put our money to work,” Nelson said.

Nelson and the other panelists said their companies are looking to states with more consistent energy policies to grow their businesses.

Ohio was the first state to roll back renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. Supporters of the freeze said the standards have increased consumers’ utility bills and discouraged job growth. A panel of lawmakers is further studying the standards during the freeze.