Vote on divisive Ohio energy bill delayed again

Julie Carr Smyth, AP Statehouse Correspondent
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A proposal to adjust Ohio's renewable energy and efficiency mandates stalled for a second time on Wednesday amid opposition from environmental and consumer interests and some majority Republican lawmakers.

Senate Public Utilities Chairman Bill Seitz, who sponsored the measure, cancelled a scheduled committee vote Wednesday, signaling an uncertain fate for the sweeping bill.

Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, had made significant revisions to the bill after it stalled before Thanksgiving in hopes of lining up needed committee support. That included removing a provision that would have allowed power companies to opt out of meeting some state alternative energy requirements.

But opponents continued to balk.

State and national advocacy groups struck out against the measure, saying it would harm Ohio's budding renewables industry, hike electricity bills for Ohio residents and businesses and favor politically generous utility executives over average consumers.

The Union of Concerned Scientists submitted a petition to Seitz on Monday questioning the goals of the legislation.

"Renewable energy generation in the Buckeye State has nearly tripled since 2008, and Ohioans are benefiting from downward pressure on wholesale electricity prices and reduced pollution," the group wrote.

"Energy efficiency programs have reduced energy demand by billions of kilowatt-hours and saved consumers millions of dollars. Ohio is now home to thousands of clean energy jobs thanks to the investments energy efficiency, solar, and wind companies have made in our communities," they told Seitz.

Meanwhile, the liberal think tank Innovation Ohio released a campaign finance analysis showing Ohio's four major electric utilities have contributed nearly $2.7 million to gubernatorial and legislative candidates and statewide political parties in Ohio since May 2008. More than half of that went to current members of the Legislature, the review found.

"The utilities, armed with a mountain of cash and an army of lobbyists, have spent five years giving generously to the very people who could enact a change in the law that would benefit their bottom lines while costing Ohioans more on their electricity bills and jeopardize jobs in the state's emerging energy sector," the report said.

Seitz's bill revisited a 2008 Ohio law under which utilities were required to produce 12.5 percent of their energy from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and hydropower, by 2025. Another 12.5 percent must come from so-called "advanced energy," such as clean coal or a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor, in what's been called the "25 by '25" standard.

Seitz argues that Ohio's in-state renewables mandates need to be addressed before they risk being declared unconstitutional, as similar rules have been elsewhere in the U.S. — and he is open to hearings on legislation that would completely wipe out the 2008 mandates.

The company Enerfab has scheduled a ribbon-cutting event in Seitz's hometown Thursday to tout an energy initiative backed by Republican Gov. John Kasich that could be jeopardized by the sidelined renewables legislation.

The Kasich-backed law, which took effect in September 2012, bolstered market opportunities for energy-efficient combined heat and power systems by providing incentives paid for through Ohio electric utilities' energy efficiency rebates. The governor's energy adviser is expected at the event.