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Published: Thursday, 12/5/2013 - Updated: 10 months ago

Senate yanks bill to weaken Ohio energy-efficiency rules

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — A bill that critics argue would undermine energy-efficiency efforts and raise utility profits at consumers’ expense has been shelved at least through the holidays.

The Senate Public Utilities Committee canceled Wednesday’s plan to send Senate Bill 58 to the floor for a full chamber vote after more questions were raised behind closed doors Tuesday night about the effects of the latest proposed changes.

The bill again has set electric utilities such as FirstEnergy against consumer and environmental groups but also has divided the business community. The measure would partly compensate utilities for power sales they would lose under standards requiring a 22 percent reduction in electricity consumption by 2025, allow them to share in customers’ savings from installing energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances, and make it easier for heavy electricity-eating industries to opt out of a renewable-energy mandate.

The bill keeps the overall 2008 mandate that utilities must find 25 percent of their power from renewable sources such as wind and solar or new-technology sources such as advanced nuclear and fuel cells. But it would eliminate the mandate that half the renewable power come from Ohio sources, a move some argue would undercut decisions made to locate wind and solar farms and waste digesters in the state.

“This decision [to cancel the committee vote] reflects nothing more than my continued adherence to the principle that it is more important to get this complex subject done right than to get it done quickly,” said the bill’s sponsor and committee chairman, Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati).

“This is particularly so since it is unlikely that the House could appropriately consider the bill in the last few days remaining this year,” he said.

Mr. Seitz had planned to incorporate a number of changes into the bill designed to address some of the consumer concerns, but it was not enough to quell opposition.

“It will still essentially say we’re not going to continue to generate renewable energy in Ohio,” said Sen. Lou Gentile (D., Steubenville), ranking Democrat on the committee. “In terms of Ohio jobs, that’s an important aspect … I don’t know why we would want to give preference to other states.”

Related bills have been introduced in the House but are not scheduled for immediate votes. The Senate wrapped things up Wednesday and went home until after the first of the year.

“Ohio’s 4 million households would pay, on average, as much as $528 more for their electric service under Senate Bill 58 over a utility’s three-year energy efficiency plan,” Ohio’s consumer counsel, Bruce Weston, wrote in a letter this week to Senate leaders. His office represents residential customers in matters before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

He estimated businesses, on average, would pay as much as $3,291 more.

Despite efforts to ease the renewable mandate on heavy industry, the Ohio Manufacturers Association opposed the bill, calling it a “huge electric utility giveaway.”

Although his own bill would have preserved the overall renewable standards, Mr. Seitz said he now plans to begin “extensive hearings” on Senate Bill 34, sponsored by Sen. Kris Jordan (R., Delaware), that would outright repeal the mandate.

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



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