Freeze on Ohio's Energy Mandates Advances

Senate Bill 310, which commissions a panel to study the effect of the mandates during the freeze, has pitted major utilities against a growing renewable energy sector.

by Jim Provance, McClatchy News Service / May 28, 2014
Solar panels are used to help power Ohio State University's Stone Lab. Flickr/Ohio Sea Grant

A bill that at least temporarily halts Ohio’s march toward green energy, pitting business against business in the process, moved closer to the governor’s desk Tuesday.

The House Public Utilities Committee voted largely along party lines to send the full House a Senate-passed bill putting on hold for two years Ohio’s current mandate that utilities find 25 percent of the power they send to consumers from renewable and advanced technology sources by 2025.

Senate Bill 310, sponsored by Sen. Troy Balderson (R., Zanesville), would also make it easier for major industrial users of power to opt out of programs that utilities must enact to reduce overall energy consumption by 22 percent by 2025.

The bill, which commissions a panel to study the effect of the mandates during the freeze, has pitted major utilities, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and National Federation of Independent Business of Ohio against a growing renewable energy sector, the Ohio Manufacturers Association, and others.

One Democrat joined majority Republicans on the committee in support of the bill after an amendment to reduce the freeze to one year was rejected. Two Republicans joined the remaining Democrats in opposition.

“I know a number of us don’t like mandates at all,” said Rep. Peter Stautberg (R., Cincinnati), the committee’s chairman. “We would have liked to see all the mandates go out the door, but we realize you can't achieve everything you want. This freeze is a reasonable compromise.”

Under current law, at least half of the alternative energy mandate, 12.5 percent, must come from true renewable sources such as wind and solar. The rest could come from advanced sources such as fuel cells, advanced nuclear, and cleaner-coal technology. The bill would freeze the mandate at the current annual benchmark of 2.5 percent and get rid of the requirement that half of the renewable power is purchased from Ohio-generated sources.

If lawmakers fail to act after the study’s completion, the freeze would thaw and the mandates would pick up again at the 2015 benchmark in 2017.

Supporters of the mandates argue that they’ve saved consumers money while encouraging the development of solar, wind, and other related businesses in the state because of the guaranteed market for their product. But Gov John Kasich and most Republican lawmakers argue that mandates discourage job creation.

Rep. Fred Strahorn (D., Dayton), a “no” vote, tried unsuccessfully to end the two-year freeze while the study committee does its work.

“I consider it premature to interrupt the effects of (current law) before we actually understand what those measures have produced,” he said. “During the testimony we’ve heard, (the mandates law) has created savings for customers and grown the renewable energy industry.”

©2014 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)