News roundup: Ohio falters on new clean energy

16 June 2014 by Peebles Squire Peebles Squire

Ohio Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 310 into law Friday against the wishes of the voting public, freezing clean energy development in the Buckeye State. Today, Kasich could slam the door shut on new wind development by approving wind-energy killing setback rules. 

The Ohio Alternative Electricity Portfolio Standard (AEPS) has been frozen in its tracks, taking the economic activity spurred on by this successful policy with it. The Plain Dealer:

  • Gov. John Kasich on Friday signed into law -- without comment -- controversial legislation that freezes state rules requiring electric utilities to sell more power generated by wind and solar and to help customers use less electricity.
  • Senate Bill 310, created by the Republican legislative majorities at the behest of the utilities and some of the state's largest industries, keeps the annually increasing mandates at this year's levels until 2017, when they will automatically be restored -- a provision missing from early versions of the bill but demanded by the governor.
  • Consumer, business and environmental coalitions fought the passage of Senate Bill 310 for months, arguing that the annually tightening efficiency rules have saved more money than they cost and that the renewable mandates had led to more than $1 billion in investments in the state. On Friday, they were sharply critical of the governor, with whom they had pleaded during the past several weeks to veto the measure, to force lawmakers to draw up a less Draconian measure.
  • Some based their criticisms on environmental concerns, others on air quality fears, while others questioned the timing of the legislation, given that federal regulators are taking aim at carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

With newspaper editorial boards and the public highly critical of S.B. 310, the debate over the AEPS freeze is rapidly becoming an election issue. Huffington Post:

  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) on Friday signed into law a contentious bill the legislature passed last month rolling back state renewable energy standards. His Democratic challenger in this fall's governor's race, Ed FitzGerald, thinks he can make the subject key in his case against Kasich.
  • "There really was a bipartisan consensus in this state that it made sense to support the encouragement of clean and renewable energy," said FitzGerald, reflecting on the near-unanimity on renewable energy and energy efficiency standards when they were passed into law in 2008.
  • Ohio has 25,000 jobs in renewables and energy efficiency, according to a 2012 report from the Advanced Energy Economy Institute. A March 2013 analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked Ohio fifth in the U.S. in manufacturing, construction and other jobs that "produce goods and provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources." Another report, from the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group, estimated that the energy efficiency provisions that the state passed in 2008 would create 32,300 additional jobs by 2025.
  • That's a major reason why the rollback bill generated opposition from not just environmentalists, but from some industry groups. The Ohio Manufacturers' Association and the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel were among the opponents. Honda, one of the largest employers in the state, also opposed it. Last week, 51 companies and 21 groups sent a letter to Kasich urging him not to sign the bill into law.
  • FitzGerald has said he will make it an issue in the campaign. "There are parts of Ohio [where] you can see wind turbines literally as far as the eye can see," said FitzGerald. "There is a real wind industry here that's in its early stages. There's a solar industry here in its early stages. And if you were a company that was on the borderline about whether or not you're going to invest in Ohio, or some other place, you just got a very strong message to stay out."

By refusing to issue a line-item veto on an amendment within the state’s midyear budget review, the governor risks bringing wind development in Ohio to a near-total halt, “the end of the line” for the state’s nascent wind portfolio. The Columbus Dispatch:

  • The man in charge of the two largest wind-energy projects planned for Ohio says the latest message from the state is clear: Go away. Michael Speerschneider of EverPower Wind Holdings said that after Gov. John Kasich signed legislation on Friday that stops increases in requirements for the use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, the prospect of any new large-scale wind development in the state probably is gone.
  • A last-minute amendment fundamentally shifts where wind turbines can be built. State law specifies that turbines must be at least 1,250 feet from the nearest house. The new amendment measures that distance from the nearest property line rather than the building.
  • If the Blue Creek project, which spans land in six townships in two counties, had been built under the new proposed setback rules, only 12 of its 152 turbines could have gone up...
  • [W]ind companies weren’t the only ones in the state’s business community to disagree with the [AEPS] freeze. Among those objecting were Honda, Whirlpool and the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association.

Ohio is just one state under attack by special interests who are trying to dismantle successful renewables standards despite support from the majority of Americans.  This report by the Energy & Policy institute analyzes the activities of these clean power opponents, state-by-state.

Sources:

John Funk, “Ohio renewable energy and efficiency rules frozen for two years as Gov. John Kasich signs legislation.” The Plain Dealer. 16 June 2014.

Kate Sheppard, “John Kasich's Democratic Challenger Makes Energy Rollbacks A Big Deal.” Huffington Post. 13 June 2014.

Holly Zachariah, “Wind-farm operator upset with energy law.” The Columbus Dispatch. 15 June 2014.