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Ohio legislators postpone decision on energy, efficiency mandates

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published: May 22, 2014 3:41 PM

Columbus — A lawmaker panel postponed action on legislation that would freeze renewable energy and efficiency mandates for two years while a new study committee develops recommendations for future standards.

But the Republican leader of the Ohio House said he expects a vote on Senate Bill 310 next week, prior to lawmakers leaving town for their summer recess.

The House’s Public Utilities Committee had scheduled a possible vote on SB 310 May 21, but that was quashed after members requested more time to understand the contents.

“People were uncomfortable, so they’re going to have the opportunity to go ahead and work on it over the weekend,” House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) told reporters following the session. “We’ll look forward to dealing with it next week.”

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Legislation passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Ted Strickland about six years ago required power companies to generate a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources or efficiency initiatives. Utilities are allowed to pass the costs of meeting those standards onto their customers.

The legislation was passed at time when other states were seeing big increases in electric bills, and lawmakers moved to re-regulate an industry that they had deregulated in the late 1990s.

At issue now is whether those mandates are driving up costs for businesses and consumers or having the intended effect of lowering energy use and prompting growth and innovation in related industries.

Among other provisions, SB 310 would freeze renewable energy and efficiency benchmarks for the next two years and create a 13-member study committee that would have to offer recommendations for future energy-related law changes by September 2015.

Absent subsequent legislative action, the renewable energy and efficiency mandates in current law would restart in 2017.

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Proponents say the standards in state law are higher than other states with comparable mandates on the books. But opponents say the legislation will stifle growth in energy-related industries. 

“There is a reason GOP lawmakers are thinking twice about moving this bill,” Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) said during a press conference at the Statehouse May 21. “Instead of continuing to focus on a rapidly developing sector of our economy, this bill amounts to a big handout to utility companies at the expense of Ohio consumers and businesses. Ohioans are seeing this 310 for what it really is — a political favor that benefits a few wealthy, well-connected political supporters at a substantial cost for the rest of us.”

Gov. John Kasich has voiced support for a measured approach to the issue.

In a released statement, his spokesman, Rob Nichols, offered, “The environmentalists and the bankers who paid for their wind and solar projects want zero changes to Ohio’s flawed renewable energy standards, while those on the other side would like to scrap renewable energy altogether. Neither extreme is right. Ohio needs new, renewable energy sources and they’ll need subsidies to get on their feet, but the current standards are unachievable, however, and threaten Ohio’s ongoing economic recovery.

He added, “The governor will continue to chart a balanced approach — more renewable energy, solid support for them and fostering our jobs-friendly climate — and oppose the extremes that are inconsistent with what Ohio’s all about.”

A coalition of business groups called for a compromise May 21, urging lawmakers to institute a one-year freeze on the energy standards.

“A shorter freeze to study the standards will create less disruption in Ohio’s emerging clean energy industry and will allow the state to develop the best path forward sooner rather than later,” Dayna Baird Payne, a representative of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a released statement.

 Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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