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Legislative fight could impact electric bills
A legislative fight at the Statehouse could ultimately affect your electric bills.

Andy Chow
Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow has been taking a closer look at the proposed energy overhaul hearing from supporters such as FirstEnergy and opponents such as environmental groups. In this report, he breaks down what an advocate for renewable and energy efficiency companies thinks about the proposal.
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Policymakers and advocates are butting heads over proposed changes to the state’s energy efficiency standards and the main question at the center of the debate is whether or not these changes would increase or decrease costs for the general consumer.

Ohio Advanced Energy Economy represents more than 400 renewable and energy efficiency companies. Its president, Ted Ford, says the current policies help suppress the wholesale cost of electricity and bring down consumption. So he believes the changes offered in Senate Bill 58 will definitely lead to higher electric bills.

“So you have more energy out there than is being consumed—more available energy," Ford said. "It drives down the prices and that’s what’s happened. So we have done studies that show the price suppression effects of energy efficiency as well as renewables. So we think eliminating that virtually guarantees that energy costs are going to go up in the future.”

The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Bill Seitz, does not make any changes to the efficiency and renewable benchmarks. But Ford says it does weaken those standards by exempting a large amount of industrial companies which are some of the biggest energy users.

“We think his bill will eliminate about 40% of the load statewide from any requirements to do energy efficiency which essentially means you’ve got a standard that applies to a much smaller part of the load so they are in fact gutting the efficiency standard as it currently exists,” Ford said.

FirstEnergy has been a vocal advocate for the bill and says the ability for large companies to opt out is a good thing, adding that these companies would go on to create their own efficiency programs. Ford disputes that claim, saying the current policies already allow such an exemption, and that the difference is that Senate Bill 58 does not require the companies to validate their efficiency. Ford says a lack of verification also means higher prices on the wholesale market.

FirstEnergy’s push for policy changes takes center stage in an ad released by Ohio Advanced Energy Economy.

“FirstEnergy’s army of lobbyists is pushing a law that will raise your electric bill," the ad states. "Newspapers, experts and businesses across Ohio agree—if FirstEnergy wins Ohio loses.”

In earlier reports, FirstEnergy has stated that the bill would avoid higher costs in the long run. Ford says the ad is an important message for the public. He says the proposed changes can be complicated so it’s vital for the consumers to know about the bill and the potential impact.

For example, the measure repeals what’s known as the Buy Ohio provision, which encourages utilities to buy renewable energy from in-state projects. The bill’s sponsor says similar provisions have been found unconstitutional and the repeal is a preemptive strike.

While this move may save money for utilities, Ford says it’ll hurt ratepayers in the long-term.

“You may temporarily pay less but in fact you’re going to cut out a big chunk of potential economic growth in the state and you’re going to see higher prices in the long term," Ford said. "I think most people understand that you have to invest in the future.”

In the end, Ford and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy believe the policies created in 2008 are working. Ford joins other environmental and consumer groups who are calling on state lawmakers to stay the course and see where Ohio goes with the current standards.

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