Ohio lawmakers have passed a bill that would allow utilities to continue ignoring the state’s renewable energy targets for the next two years. H.B. 554 was approved by the State Senate last Thursday and passed again in the House early Friday morning. Its fate now lies in the hands of Republican Governor John Kasich.
The bill comes after lawmakers placed a two-year freeze on Ohio’s renewable-energy and energy-efficiency standards, which triggered a sharp drop in clean energy investments, according to a Pew Research study. Opponents of the bill say making the targets voluntary will have the same impact as suspending the policy.
The standards were initially created by a 2008 law requiring utilities to make up 12.5 percent of their electricity mix with renewable energy sources by 2025, and cut electricity consumption through efficiency programs by 22 percent by the same year. In 2014, legislators passed a bill implementing a hold on the mandates to allow for further review. The freeze is set to lift on January 1, unless the new proposal is approved.
While Kasich signed the 2014 bill, he recently threatened to veto an extension of the policy freeze. H.B. 554 did not pass with a wide enough margin in the House or Senate to overcome a veto decision.
The latest piece of legislation was championed by Republican State Senator Bill Seitz, who argued that the bill allows utilities to wait for a court decision on the EPA's Clean Power Plan before being forced to make investments in clean energy. The Clean Power Plan is currently being litigated in federal court and now stands to be thrown out by President-elect Donald Trump.
Sen. Seitz expressed staunch opposition to clean energy mandates during his remarks last week, calling renewable energy advocates "enviro-socialists [and the] rent-seeking Left,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
Overall, responses to the bill were mixed. Several Republican lawmakers voted no on H.B. 554, citing the uncertainty created by voluntary targets and opposition to an amendment that allows utilities to reward themselves for saving energy. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni said he opposed the bill because it would allow other states to continue to attract wind projects and jobs away from Ohio.
Environmental groups and clean energy leaders, including Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) and its state-level partner Ohio AEE, said the bill stands to further weaken the state’s clean energy industry. A group of Ohio businesses, including Nestle, Campbell Soup and Whirlpool, recently joined advocates in urging lawmakers to reinstate the standards.
“Ohio is losing its competitive advantage, pushing businesses to neighboring states. Uncertainty prevents businesses that employ 100,000 Ohioans from developing long-term investment strategies within the state,” said Ted Ford, president of Ohio AEE, in a statement. “Continuing the freeze without understanding the impacts it will have on Ohio’s competitiveness and reputation is a mistake.”
Through modeling work, AEE has demonstrated how Ohio can meet its energy demand cost-effectively through a variety of resources, including renewables and efficiency.
“Lawmakers are opting to turn down $3.3 billion in savings for the state and $192 in annual savings for the average household in 2027 by failing to capitalize on advanced energy technologies,” said J.R. Tolbert, AEE’s vice president for state policy. “That’s a real shame.”
H.B. 544 now heads to Governor Kasich, who has roughly a week to veto or approve it.
Check out the links below for more on Ohio's energy bill:
- Ohio Senate approves energy bill making compliance voluntary for two years
- ‘Giveaway’ for utilities included in bill to make Ohio energy standards voluntary
- Ohio businesses to lawmakers: Strengthen standards for renewable energy and efficiency
- Kasich vows to veto any legislation extending renewable energy freeze, lawmakers also uneasy
- Clean energy investment plummets in Ohio