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Published: Monday, 11/11/2013

Area communities joining fight against energy-efficiency bill

Lucas County preps resolution after Lake passed measure

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Several northwest Ohio communities are pushing back against proposed legislation they argue unfairly forces electricity customers to compensate utilities for power they’re no longer using.

Senate Bill 58, sponsored by Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), has received attention for its provisions affecting renewable energy purchased in Ohio and waivers for big industrial electricity users from efficiency standards. But the bill also contains several provisions that directly would affect consumers’ bills.

The Lake Township trustees in Wood County last week became the first local community to pass a resolution urging defeat of the bill and its counterpart, House Bill 302. “When consumers pay for energy-efficient light bulbs, products, and upgrades, it is unconscionable that the power company should charge us for the power it no longer distributes … [and] we should be forced to pay the power company part of the money we saved by using less electric,” Lake’s resolution reads.

Lucas County is expected to have its own resolution this week. The county and Lake Township are both members of the Northwest Ohio Aggregation Coalition, through which consumers pool their numbers in an effort to negotiate better rates from electricity suppliers.

“If you go to Andersons to buy FirstEnergy light bulbs and save $92 on the life of the bulbs, they want to consider your energy savings a profit,” Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said. “So now if homeowners get energy efficiency, [the utility] gets to share in it. They consider it a lost profit that you, the ratepayer, fixed-income senior, working-class family has to share.”

The resolutions protest provisions in the 90-page bill that allow FirstEnergy and other utilities to get all consumers to pay for the rebates and other incentives offered to some customers to replace less-efficient light bulbs, refrigerators, thermostats, and other items with more efficient models.

The utilities then want to be paid for some of those energy savings that the customer would enjoy, essentially allowing the utility to share one third of the customer’s savings, the power the utility is no longer selling that customer.

“It provides a means for utilities to earn some profit from a state mandate that allows investor-owned utilities to sell less and less of their product for the next decade,” said Doug Colafella, spokesman for Toledo Edison’s Akron-based parent, FirstEnergy.

“Let’s say you own an apartment building, and each year you are allowed to rent out fewer and fewer apartments so that by 2025 you’re only renting out 75 of those 100 apartments,” he said. The apartment-building owner, he continued, still has the costs of maintaining the other 25 apartments he’s no longer renting under a government mandate.

He stressed that customers still would enjoy two-thirds of the savings from those energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances.

“This codifies the shared savings, makes it part of the law,” he said. “Right now it’s up to the PUCO to decide how much shared savings utilities are allowed. This establishes a clear amount in terms of what utilities can achieve.”

He stressed that the legislation would cap the amount utilities could spend to get those efficiencies.

Committee hearings will continue on Wednesday. The measure keeps the legal mandate enacted in 2008 that utilities must find 25 percent of their power from renewable sources such as wind and solar or new technology sources by 2025. But it eliminates the requirement that utilities buy half of the renewable power from Ohio-generated sources.

It also keeps the mandate that the utilities reduce energy consumption by 22 percent during the same period, but makes it easier for big industrial users of power such as auto manufacturing plants and steel mills to have the requirement waived under the assumption they already have every incentive to reduce electricity consumption.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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