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Published: Thursday, 4/3/2014

Ohio bill would cut green-energy requirement

Supporters say benefits uncertain; opponents tout progress so far

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — An Ohio Senate committee on Wednesday began hearings on a bill that would slash the state’s requirement that utilities buy 25 percent of their power from renewable and advanced-technology sources by 2025.

Just-introduced Senate Bill 310 would freeze the renewable mandate at the annual benchmark of 2.5 percent and a special carve-out exclusively for solar power at 1.2 percent.

State Sen. Troy Balderson (R., Zanesville), the bill’s sponsor, told the Senate Public Utilities Committee that studies from supporters and opponents of renewable and energy-efficiency standards have reached conflicting conclusions about the mandate’s effectiveness.

“One thing’s clear,” he said. “We know how much money has been paid by Ohioans for energy efficiency. We have no certainty on the benefits they have recouped from their payments.

“Because of this uncertainty and the changing economic and energy landscapes since the enactment of [the 2008 energy law], it is essential that we act to protect all Ohioans’ electricity bills from continuing to rise, and therefore, maintain the status quo while we carefully review the best way to move forward,” Mr. Balderson said.

The bill would set up a 21-member Energy Mandates Study Committee to review the renewable and energy-efficiency standards and report back to the General Assembly by Dec. 15, 2015, with recommendations.

After prior attempts to outright repeal the standards and weaken requirements that utilities show they’ve reduced demand for their own product, the latest bill appears to be on the fast track in the Senate. The committee’s chairman, state Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), plans to hold two hearings next week.

The current law sets annual benchmarks the utilities must meet on their march toward the 25 percent goal by 2015. It requires that at least half of that alternative power, 12.5 percent, be from true renewables such as wind and solar, with the rest from advanced sources such as fuel cell, nuclear, and cleaner-coal technologies.

It also requires that half of the renewable energy be purchased from Ohio-generated sources, which has been a boon to the creation of solar fields, wind farms, and waste digesters on Buckeye soil.

Mark Shanahan, energy adviser to then-Gov. Ted Strickland and a major player in the law’s 2008 writing, said Mr. Balderson’s bill reverses progress made since then.

“I think the most stunning thing about it is that it was a completely bipartisan bill when it passed,” Mr. Shanahan said. “It passed with only one vote opposing, and now we seem to have a much more ideological legislature that has brought in just a bunch of witnesses who want to talk about free-market theory.”

Current law allows utilities to ask that the renewable standards be waived if they can show a resulting 3-percent increase in customers’ bills. No utility has yet made that claim.

Since the law’s passage, natural gas prices have dropped because of booming horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing of Ohio shale. The state, however, still gets most of its power from coal.

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



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