COLUMBUS - House Republicans yesterday called for raising the bar on the governor's plan to force investment in renewable and advanced energy, a move applauded by environmental groups and alternative-energy businesses.
The plan is more specific than one proposed by Gov. Ted Strickland last fall and unanimously passed by the Senate in December. It details how quickly utilities must meet energy-efficiency goals and add wind, solar, and other alternative sources to their energy portfolios.
It also proposes fines if utilities fail to meet those benchmarks. Those fines could not be passed on to customers.
"Punishment has always been a good incentive for me in life," House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said.
The fines would help to fuel a fund to invest $10 million a year for 10 years in research and development of renewable power. The fund would be boosted by setting aside income-tax revenue generated by new jobs in this sector.
The Senate-passed bill generally requires utilities to find 25 percent of their power from advanced technology like fuel cells, cleaner coal, nuclear, or renewable sources by 2025. Of that, half, or 12.5 percent, must come from the renewable category.
The House Republican plan calls for specific renewable energy benchmarks beginning at 0.25 percent by 2009, 0.5 percent by 2010, and rising each year by half a percentage point until they reach 12.5.
Pushed as a job-creation bill, the proposal drops a trigger included in the Senate version that would exempt utilities from meeting the 25-by-2025 benchmark if it raises costs for consumers more than 3 percent.
"If this bill becomes law, we intend to meet the goals that are outlined as we have in Pennsylvania," FirstEnergy Corp. spokesman Ellen Raines said. "The expectation is that fines would not be a significant issue since we will work hard to meet all of the requirements."
Gov. Ted Strickland said yesterday that the proposal largely seems to be in line with what he proposed, but he questioned why it is taking the House so long to act on a comprehensive bill that also deals with utility regulation and rate-making.
"I just received notice today that Ohio has lost the potential investment of a $1 billon steel mill,'' he said. "They were unable to get a handle on their electricity costs because the state has yet to decide how rates will be regulated in the future. Well, we should have been able to give that company that information."
Steel Development LLC, a consortium of European and U.S. steel executives, had been considering Ohio and five other sites south or west of the state for a flat-rolled steel mill.
The energy proposal specifically would boost the solar industry, an area where northwest Ohio has emerged as a leader with such ventures as First Solar and Xunlight. The plan ultimately would require that 1 percentage point of the 12.5 percent renewable goal come from solar power.
"The technology needs the stimulus for a few years," said Alvin D. Compann, chairman of the University of Toledo's Department of Physics and Astronomy.
"The latest study by Deutsche Bank shows that the cost of solar is going to cross the current cost of conventional electricity by 2013 or so. We desperately need to get the manufacturing volume up, and the costs are going to come down," he said.