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Published: Friday, 4/11/2014

Energy efficiency timeout debated

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Advocates for Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards argued this week that it would be a mistake to throttle back on a market that is paying dividends.

But some businesses and lawmakers countered that changes in the energy landscape since those standards were put in place six years ago warrant taking a timeout.

“What you would be doing is rationing and throttling a market that’s just taking off …,” said Cheryl Roberto, an Environmental Defense Fund associate vice president and former member of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, said Wednesday. “Why would we take five years of a developing market and throttle it back at this point and time?

“We’ve seen nothing but success,” she said. “It’s cost-effective. Customers have gained overall net millions of dollars in Ohio, and it’s only going to continue on that trajectory. … Throttling it back is the absolutely wrong thing to do.”

But Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), chairman of the Senate Public Utilities Committee that is considering Senate Bill 310, said the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and other organizations want a breather.

“The problem is the customers who buy the most [energy] don’t love it,” he said. “They say ‘genug.’ That’s German for ‘enough.’ … The fundamental reality is this is not being driven by the utilities. … The customers don’t want this. The biggest companies in Ohio — U.S. Steel, Timken, Marathon. … Shouldn’t we listen to the people who buy it?”

A law passed in 2008 requires utilities to find 25 percent of their power from renewable and advanced sources by 2025.

At least half of that, 12.5 percent, must come from true renewables, such as wind and solar, with the rest permitted from fuel cells, improved nuclear and cleaner-coal technology, and other new ideas.

Half the renewables must come from Ohio sources, which has led to development of solar fields, wind farms, and bio-waste digesters.

The law requires utilities to reduce energy usage by 22 percent by 2025 and includes a yet-to-be-invoked provision that would allow a utility to request a suspension of the mandate if the cost associated raises customer bills more than 3 percent.

Senate Bill 310, sponsored by Sen. Troy Balderson (R., Zanesville), would freeze the renewable and alternative energy mandate at the 2014 annual benchmark of 2.5 percent and the energy efficiency mandate at 4.2 percent.

In addition,  a 21-member Energy Mandates Study Committee would make recommendations by Dec. 15, 2015.

The latest effort in Columbus to try to affect the 2008 renewable standards appears to have some momentum. A prior bill to repeal the standards and another that would have made major changes to the efficiency standards ran into a brick wall.

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



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