When Ohioans headed to the polls Tuesday for the statewide primaries, they cast their votes in the hope that their elected officials will work in the best interests of the state, its economy and the health and welfare of its people.
But an equally important vote is scheduled to take place this week that will test the commitment of the officials already in office to carry out their duty to Ohioans - to buck the pressure of special interests and invest in a clean energy future for the state.
On Wednesday morning, the Senate Public Utilities Committee is scheduled to vote on SB 310, the controversial “freeze” of Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewables standards. SB 310 would cancel the $1 billion in electricity bill savings and 25,000 jobs that have been created since the standards were enacted 5 years ago. Senate and House leadership are fast-tracking it through the committee process, with the goal of passing it through the legislature before the summer recess.
Amended Sub Bill Worse Than Before
Over the last few weeks, opponents have publicly lined up against the bill. Yet despite the urging of environmental, consumer and clean tech advocates, scores of Ohio’s largest corporations, the faith community, the Mayors of the 3 C’s, and key media markets, on Tuesday evening SB 310’s sponsors released a substitute version that does little to alleviate the bill’s impacts. Including:
- Retaining the freeze on the State’s renewable energy and energy efficiency mandates while a committee studies their “impacts,” this time by legislators only, without a diversity of stakeholders.
- Allowing the standards to automatically kick back into place in 2017, which would still devastate Ohio’s clean energy and energy service companies during the two-year pause.
- Ignoring the pleas of opponents by retaining the focus squarely on “costs,” rather than the substantial benefits of the programs to date - which total over $1 billion in utility-reported bill savings and a conservative $4 million in additional savings that utilities have projected over the next decade.
Of note, the substitute bill contains new, aggressive language that vilifies Ohio’s clean energy standards, calling the renewables targets and energy efficiency programs “unrealistic, unreliable, and unaffordable” - despite 5 years of utility-reported energy savings data demonstrating just how affordable and achievable they are (to wit, a 2:1 return on investment and the targets are exceeded every year).
And while the bill affirms the Senate’s desire to “get a better understanding of how energy mandates impact jobs and the economy in Ohio,” it also clearly outlines its underlying purpose - to “reduce, if not eliminate, [these] government mandates.”
The message is clear – Members of the Senate Republican leadership have no intention of letting the standards continue, even once they've been proven cost-effective and a boon for Ohio’s economy.
Opponents Continue to Line Up Against SB 310
In the last week while the Senate has been working up its substitute bill, ire against SB 310 has exploded.
The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and the Consumer’s Council entered the fray in last week’s committee hearing and joined scores of clean tech companies, manufacturers, and the faith community in voicing their opposition. Media outlets who had previously spoken out - including the Plain Dealer, the Toledo Blade, and the Akron Beacon Journal - reaffirmed their opposition. The growing chorus of voices seems to indicate that no one is fooled by the proponent’s claim that this is just a simple “pause” of the standards. As Lou Blessing, the former Republican lawmaker-turned lobbyist told reporters, “It’s not even a good fake out.”
Apparently Mr. Blessing was not alone in his assessment. In just the last few days a high-profile opponent has emerged - Governor John Kasich. The Governor has reportedly taken his own party to task and threatened a veto if SB 310 crosses his desk in its original form. And no wonder - the clean energy standards have been vital to growing Ohio’s energy efficiency programs and renewable energy economy. Kasich himself has been a strong supporter. In 2012, he included energy efficiency and renewable energy among the ten pillars in his 21st Century Energy Policy. That same year he was instrumental in enacting SB 315, which paved the way for Ohio’s manufacturing community to access new energy saving opportunities through combined heat and power and waste heat recovery.
But the question now remains - to what extent will Governor Kasich act to prevent this substitute bill from becoming law? The Plain Dealer published an editorial following the news of Kasich’s involvement, aptly calling him “the adult in the room” with respect to this debate. And he may be called upon again to fill that role if the Senators pushing SB 310 get their way.
What Happens on Wednesday?
Accompanying the Senate Committee vote is a House Public Utilities Committee session that afternoon, in which SB 310’s sponsor, Senator Troy Balderson, will present the bill. The scheduled House Committee session signals one thing - that the Senate intends to pass the substitute version of SB 310 Wednesday morning, send it to the Senate floor, and then to the House that very afternoon.
But a vote for SB 310 would be a vote against Ohio’s clean energy future. The State’s energy efficiency and renewables programs are still in their infancy, and to press the pause button on them now would surely be the death knell for the clean energy economy.
We just hope that Ohio’s elected officials are still listening to their constituents, the very voters who not so long ago walked into a polling place and elected them to ensure a better future for all Ohioans.