Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Runaway train

Why are lawmakers in such a rush to get rid of Ohio’s effective standards for clean and efficient energy?

The Ohio House is joining the Senate in ramming through a bad bill — even for this General Assembly, which is saying something — that would effectively repeal the state’s vital standards for promoting alternative energy and energy efficiency. Since leaders of the Republican-controlled House have no apparent interest in slowing down the runaway train, Gov. John Kasich must be prepared to protect the interests of Ohio consumers and businesses with a veto.

Senate Bill 310 would freeze for at least two years the standards set by the state clean-energy law that legislators approved almost unanimously in 2008. The law requires Ohio utilities to make 25 percent of their electricity sales from renewable and advanced energy sources by 2025. At the same time, utilities must adopt efficiency measures aimed at cutting electricity use in Ohio by 22 percent, also by 2025.

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Seeking to wreck the standards are such interest groups as the Koch brothers, Ohio utilities (notably FirstEnergy), fossil-fuel companies, and large industrial power users — as well as the lawmakers who pocket their campaign contributions and parrot their talking points. They assert the clean-energy law is killing jobs and costing utility consumers money.

The opposite is true: According to utilities’ own filings with state regulators, the energy-efficiency programs they have developed are on track to save their customers billions of dollars. Advanced-energy companies have created more than 25,000 jobs in Ohio and attracted an estimated $1.2 billion in capital investment.

Passage of SB 310 would jeopardize this progress. Although it would not formally eliminate the clean-energy mandates, it would place them on hold while lawmakers “studied” them. Legislators then could choose to weaken the standards, or dump them altogether.

The bill makes other mischief. It would eliminate a requirement that half of the renewable energy produced under the clean-energy law, such as wind and solar power, must be generated in Ohio. That would remove a major incentive for investment, industrial development, innovation, and job creation in the state.

For that and other reasons, many of the state’s major manufacturers — including Owens Corning, the Husky Lima Refinery, and Cooper Tire and Rubber Company — oppose the bill. The bill also would contradict Governor Kasich’s economic development strategy, which extols renewable-energy industries.

By discouraging production of nontraditional energy, SB 310 would reverse the state’s efforts to diversify its electricity supply. That would increase Ohio’s overreliance on coal-fired power, which has environmental as well as economic drawbacks. Natural gas has become a larger part of Ohio’s energy mix, but it won’t be the only answer.

If SB 310 becomes law, Ohio will be the first state to roll back its energy standards. Our state will advertise its regression to employers and investors across the country and around the world.

After five years in effect, the standards might use some updating — based on good-faith negotiations among affected interests, not power politics. Until then, they should remain in place.

A House committee is scheduled to take testimony on the bill today — so far, it has not heard from utilities — and is likely to move it to the House floor. If GOP leaders adopt the fast-track tactics of their Senate counterparts, who passed SB 310 well after midnight May 8, the measure could be on Mr. Kasich’s desk within days.

Then it would be up to the governor to show whom he truly represents — an instructive exercise for his re-election campaign this year and a possible presidential run in 2016.

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