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Don’t keep Ohio’s commitment to clean energy on ice too long



Published: Mon, June 16, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

When Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 310 into law last Friday, he also charged up a powerful and acidic battery of opposition from many fronts. Consumer groups, environmental causes and health organizations have been forceful and fiery in their hostility toward the legislation that freezes energy-efficiency mandates and renewable-energy goals at this year’s levels until at least 2017.

“This reckless step backward gives Ohioans fewer energy choices, fewer jobs and dirtier air,” David Scott, board president of the National Sierra Club, decried.

The American Lung Association is equally outraged. “By preventing any further clean- energy progress, this legislation will unnecessarily leave millions of Ohio citizens at risk from the negative health effects related to additional power-plant emissions,” the group said in a statement.

In freezing the mandates, Ohio has distinguished itself as the only state in the union where a governor has signed into law a moratorium on clean-energy goals. The 2008 law enacted standards that gave Ohio utilities until 2025 to slash customers’ power usage by 22 percent and get 25 percent of their power from renewable and advanced-technology sources.

That dubious distinction does not seem to faze the state’s largest utilities, however, including Akron-based FirstEnergy.

“FirstEnergy is pleased that Ohio took a positive step toward reforming the state’s costly energy-efficiency and renewable energy mandates,’’ the company said in a statement.

Clearly the battle lines are drawn. To lessen the sting of this contentious debate, all parties involved ought to cool their jets, face realities and strive toward productive compromise.

UNDERSTANDING UTILITIES’ PERSPECTIVE

In fairness to the utilities, time and circum- stance have intruded on their ability to meet the mandates.

Who would have thought back in 2008 that the state and nation would soon be reeling from the effects of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s? The ongoing adverse impact of the Great Recession has hurt utility companies hard and forced them to focus most of their attention on simply surviving the economic chaos it wrought.

Also since 2008, the price of natural gas has fallen to record lows thanks in part to vast new drilling fields in Ohio, the scope of which could never have been predicted six years ago. The impact of that addition to the state’s energy portfolio never was factored into the original standards.

There’s also unresolved questions of cost. Both sides claim their opponent’s positions would raise rates for consumers.

These and other questions and issues demand close scrutiny. One redeeming factor of Senate Bill 310 is that it creates a legislative study committee whose goal it is to recommend revisions to the standards no later than September 2015.

Also encouraging is that Bruce Weston, leader of the Ohio Consumers Counsel citizen watchdog group, will have a seat on that panel. Although OCC had opposed SB 310, Weston said he is looking forward to working with the study committee toward crafting viable standards.

We’ll be counting on Weston to ensure the committee stays on track and committed to its task. Toward those ends, the committee should organize quickly, study the myriad issues intently and come up with reasonable legislative proposals that will chart a realistic course for Ohioans to lessen their dependency on traditional energy sources.

At all costs, the committee must not become a smokescreen that gives only the appearance of commitment to renewable energy. Proposals to permanently revoke any and all alternative-energy goals should be off the table from the get-go.

After all, Ohio can ill afford to join the shrinking minority of states that have little or no long-term vision toward lessening reliance on fossil-based energy sources.


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