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Revisiting Ohio's clean-energy law is sparking debate
Critics say changes in Ohio's energy landscape should prompt another look at the law

Karen Kasler
Akron-based First Energy has invested heavily in nuclear, including the Davis Besse plant between Cleveland and Toledo.
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A law Ohio lawmakers passed nearly unanimously five years ago is the subject of increasing debate and lobbying for its repeal today.

The law set energy standards for power companies, including goals for renewable energy and conservation.

Critics of the law, including Akron-based First Energy, say the state's energy landscape has changed. Supporters say they’re shocked and angry that the debate is reopening.
Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler has an overview of this politically charged debate.

Revisiting Ohio's clean-energy law sparks debate.

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The so-called clean-energy law requires utilities to put in place energy efficiency standards that achieve a 22 percent savings by 2025. It also demands that electric utilities get 25 percent of their power from advanced energy and renewable resources by that same target year.

Republican Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati says a lot has changed since that law passed in 2008.

Times, and supplies, have changed
“Any time you’re on a 20-year plan, it’s prudent to check in and see how you’re doing.”

Seitz says a predicted increase in demand and in price for electricity hasn’t happened, and that was before the discovery of huge deposits of natural gas and oil in shale in Ohio. Seitz says a proposal to freeze the energy efficiency standards came to him from Akron-based FirstEnergy.

The utility’s spokesman Doug Colafella says it has conversations with lawmakers all the time, and that the company is meeting the annual targets. But he says it hasn’t come cheap.

“Since 2009, utilities like FirstEnergy across the state have charged customers over half a billion dollars for these programs and at this point we’ve achieved a reduction of about 2.3 percent. We still have to get to 22 percent.”

Neutral, to a point
Colafella says FirstEnergy has no position on the renewables requirement in the law, but says the utility is concerned that as the annual goals on energy efficiency get more aggressive, the programs to get to those goals will get more expensive. He says the costs will be passed onto consumers.

But groups that supported the law are fighting back. Nolan Moser is with the Ohio Environmental Council, which has concerns about coal-fired and nuclear plants.

Cheaper to go green
“You pay for energy efficiency, absolutely. Just like you pay for power. Just like you pay for the wires as part of the utility system. You pay about $2 to $3 on your bill for energy efficiency. A new power plant that would provide the same amount of energy is going to cost you $15 per month.”

But Moser says the law has brought economic activity to Ohio and savings to utility customers. He says American Electric Power spent $400 million on energy efficiency programs that saved customers $1.5 billion. And he notes the 305-megawatt Bluecreek Wind Farm in western Ohio was a $600 million investment.

In northeast Ohio, a coalition of business and government groups has formed to oppose changes to the law. Matt Zone is a city councilman in Cleveland, who says the city has experienced economic activity directly related to the standards in the law.

Unique opportunity
“There’s a real role for government. We have to create the opportunity and the environment for businesses to thrive. There was a very courageous and nearly unanimous vote in 2008 by the state Legislature. I mean, what are we going to say; are we going to turn back?”

But Sen. Seitz isn’t convinced that these savings have benefited customers.

“Everybody wants to reduce carbon emissions. Everybody wants cleaner air and cleaner water. But at what price? People are all for it until they find out what it costs.”

Colafella is more direct.

“It’s not clear how much customers are saving, but it’s very clear what customers are spending and what customers are paying for these programs. If the communities that we serve are struggling economically, that’s not good for FirstEnergy and that’s not good for anyone.

But Nolan Moser says FirstEnergy is simply not telling the truth when it comes to energy efficiency.

“FirstEnergy does not like these standards. At the end of the day, FirstEnergy wants to sell you more energy and they want you to pay as much as you possibly can for it.”

Later this month, the committee Seitz chairs has scheduled a hearing on revisiting the law. He says he hopes to take input from all sides and come up with a bill that may make some changes.

Related WKSU Stories

Utilities and environmentalists argue over a blank piece of paper in Columbus
Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Listener Comments:

Thanks for writing. There's a large piece missing from this bill's origin, one that connects Ohio to a nationally-coordinated attack on state clean energy laws by large fossil fuel companies.

Sen. Seitz is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which provides member legislators like Seitz with model state laws. This year, one of ALEC's national priorities is to coordinate states to repeal or weaken their renewable energy standard laws. ALEC member companies include coal utilities like Duke Energy and American Electric Power as well as companies like ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute.

ALEC has no model bills that would repeal incentives for fossil fuel or nuclear technology.

As this battle rages in Ohio, the same exact ALEC play is taking place in North Carolina with ALEC Rep. Mike Hager's H298. Kansas too just survived an ALEC-instigated rollback of its RPS law.

ALEC's other fossil fuel-funded allies have entered Ohio from out of state to help out with this: Heartland Institute (which wrote the ALEC model "Electricity Freedom Act" that repeals state RPS laws) sent its lawyer James Taylor from Chicago to testify before the OH Senate. With Taylor was Daniel Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research, another national group with ties to the Koch brothers and other oil/gas/coal interests.

ALEC, Heartland, IER and others are all members of the State Policy Network, which coordinates state-by-state legislative activity like the RPS repeals, "Right to Work" attacks on unions, and "voter ID" laws to change the voter landscape.

Posted by: Connor GIbson on April 15, 2013 11:04AM
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