Ohio Senate Bill 310 would allow unchecked authority to the utilities: Jereme Kent

Source: Jereme Kent, general manager of One Energy LLC and guest columnist, Cleveland Plain Dealer • Posted: Monday, April 7, 2014

Maybe I am naive, but I believe the state legislative process that takes place in Columbus still works. This week, however, made me question that belief. This week made me wonder if our legislators are really searching for what is in Ohio’s best interests, or if they had just succumbed to the will of the best-funded lobbyists.

In the last two weeks, I watched Sen. Troy Balderson, a Zanesville Republican, introduce a bill, Senate Bill 310, that he did not write and he does not understand. I saw Sen. Bill Seitz, a suburban Cincinnati Republican, schedule a committee meeting to hear the bill before it was even introduced. I watched the 13 senators on the Public Utilities Committee ask Balderson only two questions about the bill he introduced, one of which he couldn’t answer. Then I heard Seitz, the committee chairman, say, “He wants to get the hearings done for this bill in two consecutive days next week.” I was told by lobbyists and legislative staff last week that Senate Bill 310 was a done deal even before it was introduced, or, for that matter, even written. Maybe they were right. This bill is being railroaded through the legislative process.

Senate Bill 310 would freeze the renewable portfolio standards and energy efficiency portfolio standards in place. This would be the first time in any state, anywhere in the entire United States, that a renewable portfolio standard would be reduced, frozen or repealed.

Back in 2008, the legislature overwhelmingly voted to require utilities to take three sets of steps to help curtail skyrocketing electricity prices. The first was to achieve a savings of 22 percent of our consumption through energy efficiency by 2025. The second was to achieve a 12.5 percent integration of renewable energy into our electricity supply by 2025 (renewable energy has zero long-term price volatility so it helps prevent skyrocketing costs). The third was to achieve a 12.5 percent integration of advanced energy, which means cleaner and more efficient versions of conventional technologies. These steps are being phased in over many years.

Senate Bill 310 would stop all of these requirements in place, 11 years short of their goals. It would freeze everything at 2014 levels and give utilities free rein to take advantage of Ohioans once again.

Balderson, in his testimony on Wednesday, said that the realities have changed since 2008. He is right. They have changed for the worse. The average wholesale price of electricity in the first quarter of 2008 was 5.7 cents per kilowatt hour. The average first quarter price of electricity this year was 6.7 cents. And, without the progress we have already made in energy efficiency and renewable energy, our current reality would be even worse.

Maybe if Balderson had written the bill himself, he would have checked this. If any of the 13 members of the Public Utilities Committee had checked this, maybe they would have asked more than two questions.

In 2013, Seitz introduced a similar bill, Senate Bill 58. That bill was the second-most-lobbied bill in the Senate last year. It was the subject of testimony over three months and ultimately was defeated. You could have been for or against S.B. 58, but you would have to agree there was rigorous debate and the bill was thoroughly considered.

Somehow, just a few months later, Senate Bill 310 is different. This bill is on track to be considered for committee approval as early as next week, and then forwarded to the full Senate for the almost automatic vote of approval.

What’s different?

Maybe it is the $2 million the utilities have donated to legislators since 2008. Maybe it is because this is an election year and the GOP is afraid of having a real conversation about Ohio’s electricity bill. Or maybe it is just because the rumor is true that someone called Senate President Keith Faber a RINO (Republican in name only) for not stopping a local wind farm that a few dozen people objected to.

The bottom line is that S.B. 310 will affect the life of every single Ohioan who pays a power bill. It will restore unchecked authority to the utilities, and it will allow the utilities to go back to doing nothing about the billions of dollars of wasted electricity each year, other than passing the costs on to the rest of us.

We need to stand up against this bill. The senators need to stand up against this bill. The 2014 candidates need to stand up against this bill. And, before Ohio passes legislation that is unprecedented anywhere in the United States, we all need to demand a deliberative committee process and rigorous public debate.