By Marc Kovac
The Ohio Senate has moved legislation that would freeze renewable-energy and efficiency mandates for two years while a new study committee develops recommendations for future standards.
The vote of 21-12 on Senate Bill 310 capped months of debate and a day of behind-the-scenes haggling and committee hearings, with the final tally coming after midnight and the chamber recessing into Thursday awaiting the vote of one absent member.
The bill next heads to the Ohio House, where debate will continue on the prudence of the state’s energy standards — whether those mandates are driving up costs for businesses and consumers or having the intended effect of lowering energy use and prompting growth and innovation in related industries.
House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, has already signaled his support of the bill.
“I am strongly supportive of the goals of Senate Bill 310 and look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to ensure this legislation is passed before the summer recess,” he said in a released statement.
At issue is legislation passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Ted Strickland six years ago that required power companies to generate a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources or efficiency initiatives. Utilities are allowed to pass the costs of meeting those standards onto their customers.
The legislation was passed at a time when other states were seeing big increases in electric bills, and lawmakers moved to re-regulate an industry that they had deregulated in the late 1990s.
But lawmakers did not anticipate eastern Ohio’s shale oil and gas industry, dropping energy costs and other factors, said Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, who voted in favor of the original legislation and who supported SB 310.
Given current trends, it only makes sense to step back and reconsider the law changes and their impact, she said.
Among other provisions, SB 310 would freeze renewable-energy and efficiency benchmarks for the next two years and create a 13-member study committee that would have to offer recommendations for future energy-related law changes by September 2015.
Absent subsequent legislative action, the renewable-energy and efficiency mandates in current law would restart in 2017.
Proponents say the standards in state law are higher than other states with comparable mandates on the books. Many other states do not have such requirements.
“I can assure you there’s no mandates in India or China, and no mandates in 21 states on renewables and no mandates remotely close to ours in most states on energy-efficiency,” said Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati. “So you’re putting wind in the face, pardon the pun, of Timken and Alcoa and AK Steel and the major manufacturers in the state by imposing these mandate costs on them.”
Opponents of SB 310 say the legislation will stifle growth in energy-related industries.