What if the General Assembly were to enact a law that would create tens of thousands of Ohio jobs, save consumers lots of money on their electric bills, improve the state’s economic climate, and promote public and environmental health?
Actually, lawmakers already have done that. All they need to do now is leave the law alone.
The state’s 5-year-old clean-energy law is encouraging energy efficiency and development of alternative-energy sources. Yet several electric utilities that seek to weaken the law, notably FirstEnergy and American Electric Power, are getting a sympathetic hearing in Columbus. Consumers, employers, and everyone else who seeks a healthier Ohio have a mutual interest in keeping the law as it is.
The law requires Ohio utilities to generate 25 percent of their retail electricity sales from nontraditional sources by 2025. These include both renewable sources — wind, solar, biomass, and water power — and advanced-energy sources, such as fuel-cell, clean-coal, and nuclear technology.
The measure also seeks to reduce Ohio’s power consumption by 22 percent by 2025, thus curbing energy costs. The conservation and alternative-energy requirements aim to diversify our state’s power supply and reduce our excessive reliance on dirty, out-of-state coal to generate energy — an appropriate complement to the state’s efforts to ramp up its natural-gas production.
The law is paying off. It has created an estimated 35,000 Ohio jobs in alternative-energy and energy-efficiency ventures, a disproportionate number of them in northwest Ohio. For every dollar invested in conservation efforts, consumers save $3 on their energy bills. Utilities continue to meet the law’s mandates.
A bill before the Senate threatens these gains. Sponsored by Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), who chairs the Senate Public Utilities Committee, the measure would gut the law’s requirement that half of Ohio’s renewable energy must be generated within the state. That provision has encouraged alternative-energy producers, manufacturers, and investors to do business in Ohio.
The Senate bill also would force consumers to share much of their savings under the clean-energy law with utilities. It would make it easier for utilities and big industrial power customers to satisfy the law’s definition of energy efficiency. Since the law already prevents utility customers from facing excessive charges to comply with its efficiency standards, there seems no justification for weakening the standards now.
A new Ohio State University study estimates that adoption of the Senate bill would cost electric customers nearly $4 billion through 2025. A separate review commissioned by the Ohio Manufacturers Association concludes that the bill would wipe out $2.5 billion in projected savings from energy efficiency through 2020. So who benefits?
Senator Seitz made several cosmetic revisions to his bill last week, but they don’t address its major flaws. Meanwhile, a coalition of business, energy, consumer, and environmental lobbies has offered an alternative to the bill.
They propose giving large electric customers incentives to make real progress on energy efficiency that benefits all utility customers, enabling them to strengthen their own economic competitiveness. Mr. Seitz has rejected their approach.
The coalition amendment would appear to strengthen the clean-energy law. But if legislators can’t bring themselves to support it, the best thing they can do is just leave the law alone.