“WELCOME TO OHIO, THE HEART OF IT ALL” signs used to welcome people crossing the state line to the buckeye state. The slogan represented a diverse, dynamic state open for business and new opportunities. Opportunities that included a thriving homegrown clean energy economy and more than $1B in savings in the pockets of hardworking Ohioans.
But, if Senate and House leadership have their way, the “heart” of it all will stop beating.
Following on the heels of Senator William Seitz’s (R-Cincinnati) spectacular failure last winter to vote SB 58 out of Ohio’s Senate Public Utilities Committee, Senator Troy Balderson (R- Zanesville) has picked up the torch for the state’s anti-clean energy lobby and introduced Senate Bill 310 (SB 310). A deceptively simple bill, cloaked as nothing more than a “freeze,” it will systematically dismantle Ohio’ clean energy law and more than 25,000 advanced energy jobs in 400 businesses across the buckeye state. Looks like the bill’s author (read: First Energy) is back to their old tricks.
Contents of the Bill
Current clean energy standards in Ohio require the state’s electric utilities to achieve 22.5 percent energy savings by the end of 2025 through energy efficiency programs. SB 310 would:
- “Freeze” the benchmarks at the current 4.2 percent cumulative level. Since most of Ohio’s utilities have already met this level and would not have to generate any new energy efficiency after 2014, SB 310 would be a de facto removal of the standard.
- Set forth a “process” that would give utilities the sole discretion to determine whether to continue their current energy efficiency plans. They could continue them through 2016, amend them - or cancel them entirely.
- Allow large customers to opt out of energy efficiency programs in the event a utility decides to amend its current programs.
Under any of these scenarios, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) would have no authority to approve new energy efficiency programs after SB 310’s effective date, and all mandated energy efficiency programs would halt at the end of 2016.
The renewable energy standard would also be upended by SB 310. Current law requires that 25 percent of the electricity sold in Ohio be generated from renewable and alternative energy sources by 2025, half of which must come specifically from wind, hydropower, biomass, and at least 0.5 percent from solar. SB 310 would:
- “Freeze” the requirement at the current 2.5 percent cumulative level. Once those contracts expire the utilities will not be required to enter into any new renewable energy contracts in Ohio - effectively halting investment in solar, wind and other renewable energy resources.
- Eliminate the “alternative” energy requirement, which is the other 12.5 percent of the goal.
As if removing the clean energy requirements were not enough, SB 310 would also require utilities to put the so called “costs” of compliance with the standards on each individual customer’s monthly bill. Funny how the proposal wouldn’t require utilities to share savings information with their customers as well…
And while the heart of Ohio’s clean energy economy beats slower during this “pause,” SB 310 would create a 21-person “Energy Mandate Study Committee” to review the standards. Yet this committee will likely be stacked with special interests not concerned with the best interest of Ohioans.
Ohio’s Clean Energy Standards Are Proven
The irony of this latest push to gut Ohio’s clean energy laws is that the standards are working.
- The utilities’ own reports demonstrate that energy efficiency is cost-effective. Through 2012, Ohio’s energy efficiency programs have generated more than $1 billion in consumer electricity bill savings - a more than 2:1 return on investment.
- American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates Ohioans will realize an additional $4 billion in savings over the next decade from both participant and non-participant benefits.
- The renewables requirement has also made possible a robust, homegrown clean energy economy - which has been growing by double digits annually, even as the rest of Ohio’s economy remains flat. The PUCO has confirmed the benefits of this economy to consumers; the renewables standard reduces wholesale energy prices and in 2014 will cut energy costs in Ohio between $8 million and $28 million statewide.
- Ohio’s robust investments in energy efficiency even saved the day this last winter when they were called upon to help prevent a near catastrophic energy shortage during the worst of the extended deep freeze.
- Ohioans have spoken - and they want more energy efficiency and renewables. Just last week, a telephone survey commissioned by Ohio Advanced Energy Economy revealed that Ohioans overwhelmingly support energy efficiency and renewables over traditional power sources, and support mandated programs to drive the state down a clean energy path.
What Happens Next?
In the midst of this, Ohio’s clean energy advocates are primed for a fight.
Opponents to the bill are lining up: NRDC has joined forces with environmental, consumer and clean tech advocates on-the-ground in Ohio. Just last week several of Ohio’s largest corporations sent a joint letter to the Governor and the General Assembly voicing their opposition to the bill, including Bayer Material Science, CLEAResult, Enernoc, Honda, Honeywell, Ingersoll Rand, Johnson Controls, Owens-Corning, Schneider Electric, United Technologies, and Whirlpool. The Mayors of Columbus and Cleveland have already notified Governor Kasich of their opposition. Ohio’s key media markets are also weighing in against the bill, including the Toledo Blade, the Akron Beacon Journal and the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Yet the Senators pushing SB 310 - and the special interests that authored it - continue to ignore Ohioans’ calls to set the state on a clean energy path. In fact, Senate and House leadership have vowed to vote SB 310 out of the General Assembly by mid-May, with the bill crossing Governor Kasich’s desk before the end of the month.
The question remains: Will Ohio’s elected officials listen to the scores of constituents urging the state to invest in a clean energy future, or will they tow the special interest line and tell companies that the state’s clean energy economy is dead on arrival?