COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich chose sides on Friday in a battle over electricity that has pitted utilities and major industrial and business groups against environmental groups, labor, and even other businesses.
The Republican governor, without comment, signed Senate Bill 310 into law as expected, at least temporarily stopping Ohio’s move toward greener energy that began in 2008.
Critics argued that the bill, sponsored by Sen. Troy Balderson (R., Zanesville), is just the first step toward killing the energy mandates outright.
Supporters countered that idealistic mandates requiring utilities to find at least 25 percent of their power from such sources by 2025 and reduce overall energy consumption by 22 percent is about to start causing real pain, especially for heavy industrial electricity users.
“The governor clearly had an impact in improving the bill, and we’re grateful for that,” said Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, an opponent of the bill. “It’s unfortunate that the bill is still not in the best interest of Ohio manufacturers. It will raise costs and lower the benefits of energy efficiency.”
Mr. Kasich has walked a tightrope on the issue since taking office in 2011, generally voicing support for the mandates and even reinforcing them with his own energy policies passed in 2012. But he’d also voiced concern about the costs they could carry for business.
Doug Colafella, spokesman for FirstEnergy, the Akron-based parent company of Toledo Edison, said the utility has predicted that energy efficiency programs alone would gradually raise a consumer’s bill from $54 today to $241 if no changes were made in the mandate law.
“Opponents of the bill talk about the hypothetical price increases in years to come, but one thing we know for sure — the job creators in Ohio are paying thousands every year, in some cases millions a year, to meet these targets, something they wouldn’t be subjected to in neighboring states,” he said.
Supporting the bill were the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business of Ohio, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, electric utilities, and heavy industrial consumers.
Among the opponents were the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, the Ohio Environmental Council, the AFL-CIO, and wind and solar energy businesses.
Current law requires utilities to find a quarter of the power they distribute from renewable sources such as wind and solar and advanced sources such as fuel cells, advanced nuclear, and cleaner-coal technology by 2025. Half of that must come from true renewables with 0.5 percent coming exclusively from solar.
The law also requires utilities to promote programs that reduce overall energy use by 22 percent,
When it goes into effect in 90 days, Senate Bill 310 will freeze the mandates at their current annual benchmark, 2.5 percent for alternative energy, while a new committee reviews and makes recommendations for changes to the standards by next year.
The law passed just as the federal government was releasing its carbon-pollution reduction standards that states will now have to find a way to meet.
Green-energy supporters also are watching to see what Mr. Kasich will do with a provision tucked into a separate budgetary bill recently sent to his desk that would toughen property setback restrictions on wind turbines, a move seen as an impediment to future development of that industry.
The governor is expected to sign that bill on Monday, but he could use his line-item veto authority to strike some language from it.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.