After multiple failed attempts to roll back Ohio’s clean energy and energy efficiency standards, Republicans in the state senate aren’t giving up, releasing another bill on Friday that takes aim at the law. The measure stems from a previous bill pushed by Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), member of the corporate-funded, anti-clean energy group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Seitz’s legislation, S.B. 58, would have completely repealed the standards but the bill never made it out of the Senate Public Utilities Committee.
Republican leadership took the debate out of Seitz’s hands and drafted new legislation. The proposed bill, S.B. 310, sponsored by Sen. Troy Balderson (R-Zanesville), would freeze the clean energy and energy efficiency standards at 2014 levels while a committee, established by the legislation, studies how much the existing standards cost customers and what the costs would be if the state resumed the standards.
The law establishing Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, S.B. 221, passed both the House and Senate by a wide margin and was signed into law by Gov. Ted Strickland in 2008. The measure requires investor-owned utilities to provide 25 percent of their electricity supply from alternative energy resources by 2025. The definition of alternative energy resources includes clean coal, advanced nuclear power, distributed combined heat and power, and certain solid waste conversion technologies.
At least half of the 25 percent requirement must be generated from renewable energy sources, including wind, hydro, geothermal and at least 0.5 percent from solar energy. The law also requires utilities to implement energy efficiency reduction programs to cut demand by 22 percent by 2025, compared with 2009 levels.
Utility executives and Republican leaders in Ohio argue both requirements are too expensive to achieve.
“Tell our elected leaders in Columbus to protect businesses and homeowners from the rising costs of Ohio’s energy efficiency mandates,” a FirstEnergy letter to commercial and industrial customers reads.
“What we want to do as a legislature is put procedures in place that are based on evidence and science, not based on ideas that happened back when we thought Solyndra was going to be a good investment for the federal government,” Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) said.
Contrary to these claims, an analysis by Ohio State University’s Center for Resilience found that the 2008 policy has saved ratepayers 1.4 percent on electricity bills since S.B. 221’s implementation, and total electricity demand is down 2.6 percent.
And according to 2013 testimony by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, if utilities were to continue meeting the energy standard over the coming years, customers would save a total of nearly $5.6 billion in avoided energy expenditures. Almost half of the $5.6 billion in savings would be thanks to a reduction in wholesale prices, which would decrease electricity rates for consumers not even participating in an energy efficiency program.
As for renewable energy gains, the Ohio State University analysis found that total renewable electricity generation is up 64 percent, and the law has created 3,200 jobs from its enactment in 2008 through 2012.
The proposed moratorium on Ohio’s clean energy and energy efficiency standards would clearly hurt Ohioans and the job growth in the renewable energy industry in the state.
In addition to halting these gains, the ALEC-inspired and utility-led attacks could possibly come back to hurt the state in another way. This June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to propose the first-ever reductions in carbon pollution from existing power plants. The proposal will likely set a carbon-pollution-reduction level for existing coal-fired power plants and provide states with ample flexibility to design cost-effective measures to achieve these reductions. This flexibility would enable utility managers, engineers, government officials, and the public to collaborate on the development of innovative, cost-effective solutions to help their states cut pollution and keep electricity rates reasonable for consumers.
According to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), the state’s electricity portfolio relies on coal-fired power plants for nearly 70 percent of its electricity. While Ohio may have to reduce the amount of coal power to meet the EPA reductions, the state is already on the right path.
A World Resources Institute (WRI) analysis found that Ohio can reduce its CO2 emissions 27 percent below 2011 levels by 2020 using existing state policies and infrastructure opportunities and that these reductions would meet or exceed the forthcoming EPA standards.
“The President is using his executive authority as part of a national response to climate change,” the WRI analysis concludes. “Ohio is in a strong position to comply with upcoming EPA standards for existing power plants.”
However, if Ohio repeals, freezes, or weakens the policies that are diversifying Ohio’s electricity portfolio and will reduce carbon pollution, then utilities and state officials will have to find new ways to reduce carbon pollution. Or, if the state were to propose a plan that does not meet the required standards, then the EPA will write a plan for Ohio — an outcome utilities likely want to avoid.