Just days before Ohioans sat down with their families to celebrate Thanksgiving, Ohio Senator Bill Seitz unleashed a series of amendments to a bill (SB 58) that will continue to dismantle Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable standards. Despite the Senator’s claims that the amendments are a “compromise,” the new version reveals the bill’s true colors - and they are anything but green.
And just this morning the Public Utilities Committee cancelled its vote for the second time, amidst concerns about the bill’s impacts to consumers. Apparently Senator Seitz once again lacks the support of his Committee, of which he is also the chair. This is not surprising given that the revision he released last week utterly fails to address concerns voiced by the growing chorus of Ohioans opposing the bill.
In fact, the latest version is even more damaging for consumers than before, adding countless more opportunities for utilities to shift all of the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy investments from Ohioans to their own shareholders. The bill now reads like a utility wishlist that would ensure utilities profit in the coming years even while they create little - if any - additional demand-side energy efficiency for Ohio. It truly is a wolf in “reform’s” clothing. For example it:
- Retains an exorbitant 33% utility profit for efficiency investments, for nothing more than complying with what is already required by law. While the latest amendment attempts to appease opponents by capping these profits at $20M per year, it would still be quite lucrative for a utility like First Energy, who would see a doubling of its current $10M cap. What’s worse, the amended bill includes a novel provision that would allow a utility to bank over-compliance with the energy standard in a given year and apply it in future years to receive an additional 33% in profits - doubling their return for the same energy savings.
- Allows utilities like First Energy and AEP to take credit for energy efficiency done by municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives. Despite the fact that these investor-owned utilities will in no way be creating the energy savings in question, they will still be allowed to collect a 33% profit from their customers on those savings and count them toward the standards each year.
- Continues to allow over 1,000 of Ohio’s largest manufacturers to opt out from energy efficiency programs – with zero oversight and reducing benefits for all consumers.
- Continues to water down the definition of energy efficiency to include non-electric measures – and provides utilities with even more discretion to do so.
- Gives disproportionate deference to Ohio’s utilities, thereby removing essential consumer safeguards. For example, the amended version would allow each utility to decide – at its sole discretion – at what point SB 58’s requirements kick in, either right away or after the next efficiency program cycle. In fact, with the latest amendments the bill contains at least six instances where it gives a utility “discretion” to choose an option, while consumers are left with no oversight or ability to impact these decisions.
- Outsources Ohio jobs at the expense of consumers. The amendments contain a sunset provision that would end in 2018 the requirement that ½ of the renewables standard be met by in-state solar and wind. Beginning in 2019, utilities would be able to source green power from any of the 12 states managed by PJM, thereby sending consumer dollars outside of the State.
To add insult to injury, the latest version of the bill will be even costlier for consumers than the original version. Even with the proposed changes, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel estimates 4 million Ohio households could each pay an additional $528 on their electric bills over the course of the utilities’ three-year energy efficiency plans. And that doesn’t include $300M in increased energy costs that Ohio State University estimates will be felt over the next decade by Ohio’s many manufacturers and businesses if the bill is signed into law. This is a dangerous path that threatens to stunt Ohio’s clean energy future.
The good news is that even as Senator Seitz struggles in vain to make his bill more palatable to lawmakers, our coalition continues to add new opponents to the ranks, the latest being Campbell Soup Company (whose plant near Toledo is the largest soup-manufacturing facility in the world). The local press also continues to oppose any changes to Ohio’s existing clean energy laws.
It is likely that Senator Seitz will go back to the drawing board and release more amendments after the New Year. Only one question remains: if SB 58 does resurface, will lawmakers answer the call of scores of Ohioans and give this bill a proper burial, or will they cave to political pressure and award utilities with yet another payday?