by Julia Pyper
October 20, 2017

The battle over Ohio’s clean energy standards is back. Senators took up new legislation this week that would make the state's renewable energy portfolio and efficiency goals optional, which opponents say would drive billions of dollars of energy investment out of state. 

It’s a familiar battle. Republicans clashed last year over legislation that would have gutted the standards, which Governor John Kasich ultimately vetoed. It’s unclear how Kasich will respond this time around.

Meanwhile, as Ohio revisits its renewable energy policies, California solidified its leadership position on cleantech and climate action, Florida’s largest municipal utility approved a new solar plan, and a new report came out on how rural American communities are affected by transmission development for clean energy projects. We look at all of that in this week’s column -- plus a rundown of the top clean energy policy news. 

A battle over the economic impact of Ohio's RPS

The Ohio State Senate held a hearing on Wednesday to take up HB 114, a bill that would make the state’s renewable portfolio standard and efficiency goals voluntary. The House passed the proposal in March by a margin of 65 to 31. 

The hearing comes nearly a year after Governor Kasich vetoed a bill to weaken the state’s energy standards at the end of the 2016 legislative session. His veto represented something of a reversal. In 2014, Kasich approved a freeze on the state’s clean energy mandates, followed by a lengthy policy review. Two years later, when lawmakers sought to weaken the standards, Kasich came to the rescue.

Earlier this year, Kasich's spokesperson Emmalee Kalmbach indicated the governor was opposed to the latest bill. “The governor has been clear regarding the need to work with the General Assembly to craft a bill that supports a diverse mix of reliable, low-cost energy sources while preserving the gains we have made in the state's economy," Kalmbach told the Columbus Dispatch. Kasich has yet to take a formal position on HB 114, however. And even if he blocks it, there may be enough votes in the Senate to override a veto this time around.

Ohio's current standards, first passed in 2008, require the state's utilities to generate 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2027, and boost their efficiency 22.5 percent by the same year.

Conservative policymakers and fossil fuel supporters are pushing back against the standards, claiming they will raise electricity prices and hurt Ohio’s GDP. According to the free market think tank the Buckeye Institute, in the worst-case scenario Ohio would shed 134,100 jobs and weather a loss of $15.5 billion in GDP by 2026. In the best-case scenario -- that assumes policymakers immediately and indefinitely freeze the mandates at 2016 levels and compliance costs remain fixed at 2014 levels -- the RPS would still cause employment opportunities to decline by 6,800 jobs accounting for a loss of $806 million in GDP by 2026, according to Buckeye.

Clean energy advocates argue just the opposite, claiming HB 114 would hurt Ohio by ceding the competition for clean energy and 21st century jobs to states like Michigan and Texas.

The House-passed bill “would stifle growth of the advanced energy industry in Ohio, hurt the state’s competitiveness for attracting large corporate operations, and drive a $10 billion market opportunity to neighboring states while driving up the cost of electricity for all Ohio consumers,” said Ray Fakhoury, State Policy Associate at Advanced Energy Economy. “The Ohio Senate has an opportunity to reject this bill and develop Ohio’s energy policy of the future, providing certainty to business leaders looking to make long-term investments in Ohio.”

Amid attempts to gut the state’s renewable portfolio standard, AEP Ohio has issued a request for proposals for 400 megawatts of solar energy resources. In an agreement approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in November 2016, AEP Ohio committed to developing 400 megawatts of solar generation and 500 megawatts of wind generation over four years. On October 18, AEP issued an RFP for up to 400 megawatts of solar power, with preference given to sites that are located in Appalachian Ohio, create permanent manufacturing jobs in the region and commit to hiring Ohio military veterans.

Proposals are due December 18, 2017. More information is available here.

California doubles down on climate leadership 

California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a slew of legislation into law, including a bill that moves the state’s primary to March, making California one of the first states to weigh in on the 2020 presidential race. It will be interesting to see how that influences the national political dialogue. On the energy and environment front, while a bid to move the state to 100 percent renewable energy failed to pass during the last legislative session, California solidified its leadership with the approval of several other climate and cleantech bills.

Earlier this month, Brown signed legislation reforming the state’s PACE program. Then on October 10, the governor signed multiple pieces of legislation to strengthen California’s zero-emissions vehicle markets and accelerate the state’s transition away from fossil fuels. 

The approved bills include SB 498, which requires at least 50 percent of the state’s light-duty vehicle fleet to be zero-emission vehicles by 2025, up from the current goal of 25 percent by 2020; and AB 544, which extends California’s program to allow certain clean alternative fuel vehicles to use carpool lanes. The list also includes AB 739, which requires at least 15 percent of specified heavy-duty vehicles newly purchased by state agencies to be zero-emissions beginning in 2025, and at least 30 percent of those vehicles to be zero-emissions vehicles beginning in 2030.

In other news from Sacramento, California State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De León announced this week he will challenge incumbent Dianne Feinstein in the next United States Senate race.  

Climate Hawks Vote praised De León’s strong record on climate action; he has authored and passed several pieces of favorable legislation including SB 350, which established a 50 percent renewable electricity standard by 2030, and SB 185, which calls for California’s pension companies to divest their coal holdings within five years. This year, he introduced SB 100, calling for 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, although the target was reduced in negotiations and ultimately the bill failed to pass. De León represented California at the U.N. climate talks in Paris, and he’s signed the pledge not to take money from oil donors.

“Primaries determine who advances to the general election, but more importantly they help define the soul of the party,” said RL Miller, president of Climate Hawks Vote, in a statement. “We’re excited by this bold challenge. And now we want to know: Will Dianne Feinstein also sign the pledge not to take money from oil companies?”

The good, the bad and the ugly of JEA’s new solar program

JEA, Florida’s largest municipal utility, approved a new solar package on a tight timeline this week that clean energy stakeholders say is a mixed bag.  

The plan will add another 250 megawatts of utility-scale solar with a projected in-service date of 2020. The utility is also offering a 30 percent rebate on batteries of up to $2,000 to its customers. At the same time, JEA will drop the net metering credit from 10.5 cents to its fuel rate of 3.25 cents per kilowatt-hour effective for all new customers starting March 31, 2018. This last piece has prompted pushback from rooftop solar supporters including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

"We’re pleased that JEA wants to bring solar energy to more consumers, but its policy doesn’t support the goal. Rather than encourage consumers, the plan cuts an incentive and does not fairly compensate consumers who adopt solar,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs at SEIA. “The utility also doesn't do enough to ensure consumers can access batteries that can store the solar they generate, which also runs counter to the goal.”

SACE said its is disappointed with elements of the plan and that JEA did not conduct adequate stakeholder outreach. The group said it will now help educate JEA customers on their options, “but will be watching to see whether this proposal does indeed lead to a significant downturn in customer-owned solar development and will hold JEA accountable.”

Report: The economic impact of transmission projects in rural communities 

A new report from the Center for Rural Affairs looks at a state policy issue we don’t often explore: clean energy tax revenue.

The report, Generation and Delivery: The Economic Impact of Transmission Infrastructure in Rural Counties, examines state statutes governing revenue collection and distribution from energy transmission projects at the local level. It specifically looks at three recently constructed projects in Upper Midwest and Great Plains states, which demonstrate varying approaches to the use of tax revenue generated by newly built transmission infrastructure.

“There is considerable variation in the flow of revenues from power lines,” said Johnathan Hladik, policy program director for the Center for Rural Affairs. “While the significance of renewable energy to rural economic development is well understood, less is known about the impacts of transmission development on rural economies.”

One of the primary findings is that communities affected by transmission development realized significant benefits only when state law allows for most or all of the revenue from projects to be invested locally. The problem is that current property tax laws tend to limit the ability counties have to take advantage of tax revenue from new transmission line development, the authors argue, which is perhaps not the most surprising finding from a group representing rural communities.

“As these communities are on the front lines of any development, residents must have a role in determining how and when this increased revenue is put to use,” said Hladik. The full report is available here.

Some of the latest state energy policy news

NV WARN files an appeal with the Supreme Court against Duke Energy. Climate justice nonprofit NC WARN has filed an appeal in a case that began in June 2015 when the group began selling solar power to the Faith Community Church in Greensboro from a system installed on the church’s roof. A Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 for Duke last month, but Judge Christopher Dillon’s dissent allowed for the case to be heard by the high court. NC WARN describes this as a “test case” to challenge Duke Energy’s blockade against third-party solar competition.

Georgia Power introduces new Community Solar program. Georgia Power introduced a new community solar program this week that’s now open for pre-enrollment. Residential customers can subscribe to receive a bill credit based on actual production at a solar facility. The program, launching in January 2018, will be supported by 3 megawatts of new utility-owned solar power projects, including a 2-megawatt facility currently under construction near Athens.

California will allow autonomous cars without human drivers. Starting in 2018, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will allow self-driving cars without steering wheels, foot pedals, mirrors and human drivers behind the wheel to be used on state roads, The Verge reports. All of those components are currently required in order to test autonomous vehicles. There are currently 42 companies testing about 285 self-driving cars in the state.

Massachusetts studies eligibility of energy storage to net-meter and participate in wholesale markets (17-146). On October 3, 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities opened an inquiry into the eligibility of energy storage systems paired with distributed generation to net-meter and the qualification and bidding of certain net metering facilities into the ISO New England Forward Capacity Market. According to Advanced Energy Economy’s PowerSuite, initial written comments on energy storage are due by November 17 and reply comments are due by December 8, 2017. Initial comments on participating in the FCM are due by February 1 and reply comments are due by February 22, 2018. 

Minnesota seeks to implement performance metrics for Xcel Energy (17-401). On September 22, 2017, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission opened an investigation to develop performance metrics and potentially financial incentives for Xcel Energy, according to PowerSuite. Phase 1 will be focused on information gathering and stakeholder input. Phase 2 will be focused on applying the information learned and implementing performance metrics. Initial comments on Phase 1 are due by December 1 and reply comments are due by January 18, 2017.