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Saturday, November 22, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 5/17/2014

COMMENTARY

Bad energy bill fails to generate public outcry — yet

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Johanek Johanek
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Ohio Senate Bill 310 doesn’t have the emotional resonance of Senate Bill 5, the anti-union legislation that voters decisively rejected in 2011. But give it time.

SB 310, a bill that would put the state’s “green” energy standards on hold, affects far more Ohioans than an attack on public-employee unions.

The Republican-backed measure, written by politically generous utility pals, freezes forward-thinking energy policy in Ohio. That policy, adopted almost unanimously in the Statehouse six years ago, included the handiwork of Republican lawmakers who urged mandates to achieve energy efficiency.

But what seemed prudent in 2008 — to favor renewable clean energy over finite and filthy fossil fuel — is something that can wait in 2014. The short-term bottom line of energy conglomerates has taken precedence over the priority of planning for tomorrow.

If companies can make a short-term killing on energy from coal-fired power plants, and producers can make fast fortunes in shale oil and natural gas, why worry about long-term realities? Someone else can catch up to the future later with renewable and advanced energy sources.

Some other generation can deal with the downsides of reliance on a fossil-fuel economy. Supporters of SB 310 suggest that climate change and carbon footprints are just trendy fabrications.

Supporters harbor the unspoken belief that clean, efficient energy is an overrated concept. They blame leftists for advocating conformity to green energy standards to save money, promote conservation, and preserve the environment.

Most Republicans in the General Assembly profess to embrace cost-effective green alternatives, such as solar and wind power. But it’s clear they maintain a firm allegiance to energy driven by fossil fuels and harnessed by electric utility companies.

Those who are pushing to pause progress in the state’s energy law present two public faces. American Electric Power gives awards to businesses and organizations for leadership in energy-efficient programs. But it also supports efforts to freeze alternative energy and efficiency mandates, eliminate in-state requirements for producing renewable energy, and make other changes in the state’s energy law. Proponents of SB 310 can’t have it both ways.

The job of utility lobbyists, who are strong-arming lawmakers to scrap the progressive benchmarks of the 2008 law, is to protect profits, not ratepayers, not the environment, not renewable energy, not efficiency standards that make economic sense.

“Give them credit,” said Robert Shields, chairman of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club. “They’re well organized and move quickly to ensure as little opposition as possible.

“But supporters of this legislation are hewing to a 19th century fuel source in the 21st century,” Mr. Shields told me. “The focus in Columbus is coal and giving handouts to utilities so they can continue to do business without having to change the way they do business.

“Passage of SB 310 ... is going to put a real hurt on Ohio,” Mr. Shields predicted. “It leaves us behind economically. We hope the governor vetoes it outright, but we’re not holding our breath.”

Influential powers in the state don’t want to wean Ohio from fossil fuel, he said — even if clean energy options reduce energy use, lower utility bills, save businesses’ operating costs, and create business opportunities.

Ted Ford, head of Ohio Advanced Energy Economy, a coalition that supports renewable and efficiency standards, said in a statement: “As a result of the [current Ohio] standards, the renewable energy industry has invested $1.2 billion to provide clean energy to Ohioans, and Ohio’s investor-owned utilities have reported that energy-efficiency programs carried out in 2009-2012 will yield over $4.1 billion in savings for electric utility customers over 10 years.”

Mr. Ford stressed that “Ohio’s advanced energy industry is growing rapidly,” with more than 400 businesses employing more than 25,000 Ohioans. SB 310 tells that industry to take their business elsewhere, he added.

Conventional wisdom says that the bill, being rushed through the General Assembly before summer recess, is a done deal. On solid party-line votes, Republican lawmakers are expected to send this energy setback to Gov. John Kasich, who will sign it into law.

Governor Kasich is betting the public backlash will be minimal. But he was wrong on SB 5 too.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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