Early Wednesday morning, the Ohio Senate passed a bill that would effectively freeze the state’s renewable standards along with its energy efficiency program at 2014 levels for the next two years.
The bill, SB310, was passed 21 to 11, at a little past 1 a.m on Thursday, after nearly 20 hours of debate.
Ohio’s efficiency and renewable rules were passed unanimously, save for one vote, back in 2008. Under the law, the state’s four electric utilities are required to generate 12.5 percent of energy from renewables and 12.5 percent from advanced sources by 2025 and offer consumers programs to help them reduce their energy use. The program has so far saved customers $1 billion in electricity bills and created 25,000 jobs, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
An earlier version of the bill, sponsored by Senator Troy Balderson (R), would have indefinitely suspended the programs, instead of putting them on a two-year hold while a committee debates the costs and benefits of the program. Gov. Kasich is reported to have threatened to veto such an extreme measure.
Ohio’s renewable standards and energy efficiency programs have been under attack for years. According to Neal Elliott, associate research director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, after having made bad bets on coal, FirstEnergy (a major Ohio utility) has been pressuring lawmakers to weaken or eliminate the standards.
Twice before, Senator Bill Seitz, who hails from the northeast of Ohio — the same area served by FirstEnergy — has introduced legislation to dismantle the state’s clean energy targets. Seitz also serves on the Board of Directors for the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) an influential lobbying group composed of fossil fuel corporations and wealthy individuals that has repeatedly attempted to reverse clean energy standards across the nation.
“I am just amazed by how SB310 has been pushed through as quickly and with as little exposure, as possible,” said Elliott. “On Wednesday night, the committee got the legislative language only about half an hour before they voted it out to the Senate. And then it was voted on that same night by the Senate. This is an extraordinary process in the worst way possible, Move it fast, so no one can look at it.”
While Elliott says that the current proposal for a two year freeze is better than an indefinite suspension of the standards and programs, it may have a similar consequences for the renewables industry in the state.
“There is going to be a huge amount of disruption in the next two years for solar and wind installers and equipment manufactures are going to have to lay off workers,” said Elliott. “They’re essentially killing the capability to comply with the renewable targets that Ohio has developed over the last seven years — that’s the strategy.”
“We’re very disappointed by this turn of events and had hoped that the scores of businesses, advocates and constituents who had spoken out against the freeze would have made a difference to the Senate,” said Samantha Williams, a staff Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We now ask the governor to continue his excellent record of supporting clean energy in Ohio by continuing to intervene in this matter and protect the standards and all the benefits they’ve provided to Ohioans.”
Governor Kasich’s Democratic rival in this year’s gubernatorial race, Ed FitzGerald, made it clear Thursday that he intends to make clean energy a campaign issue.
“Today’s vote threatens to move Ohio’s economy backwards,” said FitzGerald in a release, “Senate Bill 310 is undeniably detrimental for our state’s job growth, working families, and environment. The governor needs to do all that he can to protect Ohio’s economy and middle class, and veto this bill.”
It remains to be seen which version of the bill will end up on Gov. Kasich’s desk, although Elliot of ACEEE is confident that the House will pass the bill, or perhaps their own, even more drastic version.
The Senate is already threatening to override a veto if the governor rejects the bill. In Ohio, overriding a gubernatorial veto takes a two-thirds vote in the Legislature. Given the support the bill received in the Senate late Wednesday night, such a move is conceivable.
In March, Ohio’s neighbor, Indiana, successfully passed legislation ending the state’s popular energy-efficiency program. Gov. Pence refused to take any action on the bill when it reached his desk and by default, the bill became law.