Ohio Senate Panel Makes Alternative Energy Changes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s alternative energy targets would be put on hold for two years as a legislative panel studies their impact under a compromise accepted Wednesday on a closely watched Senate bill.

The mandates for state utilities to use energy sources including solar, wind and biofuels have been hotly debated since Ohio put them in place in 2008. Legislation revising the standards appears poised to move quickly through the Statehouse this week.

Proponents say such targets promote environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels and create high-tech jobs in the growing alternative-energy sector. Opponents contend they drive up prices for average electric consumers who have been given little choice in the matter.

Responding to broad criticism, including from the Kasich administration, the Senate Public Utilities Committee said Wednesday it was again backing off efforts to effectively repeal the mandates through a permanent moratorium. Various earlier attempts to turn back the requirements have also failed.

The compromise bill would allow the phase-in of the standards to continue as planned if lawmakers don’t act on the 12-member study panel’s recommendations at the end of two years. The panel would include six representatives and six senators, up to four from each chamber of a single political party.

Current law requires utilities to produce 12.5 percent of their energy from renewable sources and 12.5 percent from advanced sources by 2025. Under the latest rewrite, phase-in would conclude in 2027 in order to allow for the two-year hiatus.

The amended bill removes a requirement that half of renewable energy resources come from in-state facilities and requires utilities to disclose alternative energy costs to customers. Those customers would have the option to opt out of paying for higher-cost alternative energy if it amounts to 3 percent or more of their bills. The rewrite also allows large industrial users pursuing their own energy efficiency measures to opt out of required alternative-energy thresholds with the approval of state regulators.

Sen. Troy Balderson, the bill’s sponsor, said majority Republicans still believe the “25 by ’25” standard needs revisiting but are trying to address concerns. Opponents include environmentalists, manufacturers and alternative energy producers.

“Listen, we didn’t want to get into a war here,” Balderson said. “This is something we definitely need to address. Let’s get as many people on board with the process as possible now.”

Chairman Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said the decision to limit the study commission to lawmakers was intended to address the many requests he received to seat various interest groups on the study panel.

“If we accommodated everybody who wanted to be on this study commission with their requests, we would have a body as large as the United Nations and just about as useless.”

Though they’re at the heart of the debate, Ohio power companies have not testified on the bill.

Balderson said lawmakers “know where utilities stand” and are more concerned about the impact of the mandates on the electric bills of average ratepayers.

Ohio’s utility ratepayer watchdog has testified in favor of continuing to phase-in the alternative energy mandates while the matter is studied. Consumers’ Counsel Bruce Weston has also advocated restricting utilities to collecting shared savings from energy efficiency mandates that exceed benchmarks.

He wants the study committee’s scope to be broadened to include the structure of Ohio’s rate-making system, which he says is tilted toward favoring utilities over consumers.

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