The Ohio state legislature approved a bill on Wednesday that would make the Buckeye State the first in the nation to actually halt its renewable energy standard (RES).
The State House voted 53–38 to pass SB 310, a bill freezing the RES at current levels for two years. It would also halt Ohio’s energy efficiency program. During those two years, a “study committee” would review the impact of the standard.
This vote to gut the RES comes six years after the bill establishing it (SB 221) passed almost unanimously, with only one single dissenting vote in either state legislative chamber. Since then, the standards have been wildly popular, with a recent poll showing that 70 percent of Ohioans support them.
According to the original legislation, the renewable energy standard in 2014 is 2.5 percent (including wind, hydro, and biomass), with that number bumping up a percentage point per year to 12.5 percent in 2025. By that point, 0.5 percent would have to come from solar — currently that requirement is 0.12 percent. The same step up to 12.5 percent would happen for “advanced” energy, like nuclear. The energy efficiency standard asks utilities to decrease customers’ energy use by 22 percent by 2025.
Shortly after the Wednesday afternoon House vote, the Senate voted to adopt the House’s version 21–11, and the bill’s next stop is to be signed by the governor, so those yearly improvements in the state’s energy portfolio are in serious jeopardy.
Ohio’s first-term Republican Governor John Kasich said in a statement earlier this month that the renewable energy standards “are simply unrealistic and will drive up energy costs for job creators and consumers.” He made the case that the bill was a compromise from scrapping the RES entirely, and by “temporarily holding at our current level while problems are ironed out, we keep the progress we’ve made, ensure we steadily grow new energy sources and preserve affordable energy prices for both businesses and consumers.”
Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, currently President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, signed the original RES into law, and has a different take.
“Let me be clear, this vote does not represent a compromise, it represents a giveaway to utility companies and the end of Ohio’s leadership in the renewable energy industries.”
“When I signed SB 221 into law it put consumers on a level playing field with the utility companies,” Strickland said. “It was legislation developed over months of bipartisan discussions about how to create jobs in an emerging industry and position Ohio as a national leader in the production of renewable energy. It has been working — jobs are being created, investments are being made, and rate-payers are saving money.”
Since the standard came into effect, Ohio’s clean energy sector provided 25,000 jobs and at least $1 billion in private sector investment. This has saved ratepayers roughly $230 million, dropping electricity rates by almost a percent and a half.
So who is driving the opposition to the standards? Akron-based, coal-dominated utility FirstEnergy has been leading the charge, with a group of utilities spending $694,000 to donate to state legislators. According to CAP Action analysis, the six co-sponsors of SB 310 have received $141,200 in total political contributions from FirstEnergy. FirstEnergy’s CEO said that his company is “being hurt by various mandates that drive down electricity demand.” The company has even asked its customers to push for the bill freezing the clean energy and efficiency standards.
Yet FirstEnergy admitted to state regulators that the law’s efficiency standards helped consumers save $2 for every $1 spent. In total, the energy efficiency program has saved Ohio $1 billion in formerly wasted energy.
As former Governor Strickland put it: “With this vote Ohioans can say goodbye to jobs and hello to higher electric bills.”
The editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer made clear Wednesday evening that even though the bill “is less obnoxious than it was” in just being a freeze and not a repeal, “the governor instead should veto it”:
SB 310 is more than a simple freeze; the bill also will chill what have been burgeoning alternative-energy investments in a state, and during a governorship, that aims to create Ohio jobs.
Kasich also should veto the bill because the House shunned a common-sense compromise jointly suggested by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and the Office of Ohio Consumers’ Counsel. Among other features, the compromise would have limited the freeze to one year. Later Wednesday, the Senate concurred, 21–11, in the House’s amendments. That sent SB 310 to Kasich.
Religious leaders across Ohio urged Governor Kasich to veto the bill, and not only because, as Rev. Tim Ahrens of Columbus’ First Congregational Church told ThinkProgress, “The first words of the Bible say ‘take care of this planet that I have created for you.’” Some churches have actually cut their electricity bills by up to 30 percent thanks to energy audits.
Veterans groups have also defended the RES, saying that any move to weaken it “weakens Ohio’s energy security.”
“Ohio has been recognized as a state that is doing it right,” said former Governor Strickland. “But now, with this regressive action, Ohio would be the first state in America to dismantle existing renewable standards. SB 221 invited job creators to come to Ohio to create jobs, this vote tells those job creators, ‘we don’t want you — go somewhere else.’”
Ohio Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ed Fitzgerald had this to say about Governor Kasich’s signal that he would sign SB 310 in a statement:
“Tonight, Governor Kasich’s office announced that he intends to move Ohio’s economy, families, and environment backwards. SB 310 will force utility prices to rise, and cost Ohioans thousands of jobs. In signing this bill, Governor Kasich will align himself with the Koch Brothers and the wealthy and well connected — and against working Ohioans. As Governor, I will work to make Ohio a national energy leader, rather than make headlines for trapping Ohio in the Rust Belt.”
Asked whether Mr. Fitzgerald thought that FirstEnergy was the primary driver behind this legislation, Fitzgerald campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said, “there’s no doubt that certain corporate special interests are pushing this legislation at the expense of jobs, Ohioans and the environment.”