A closer look at the outrageous plan to derail Ohio’s clean energy future

Pictured: Ohio Senator Bill Sietz, one of several extreme voices derailing clean energy legislation. (picture source: Associated Press)

The Ohio Legislature’s just-released Energy Mandates Study Committee Report is kind of outrageous. Not only does it ignore the assignment to truly weigh the costs and benefits of Ohio’s clean energy standards, this report leaves me questioning if they did any studying at all. The Study Committee’s top recommendation is to “freeze” the clean energy standards “indefinitely,” followed by a list of incoherent, non-sequitur recommendations.

The report’s recommendations signal that the Ohio General Assembly’s conversation about Ohio’s clean energy standards is stunted and out-of-touch with the real trends in consumer demand, competitive markets, and public opinion.

Let’s take a closer look at these recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Freeze the Clean Energy Standards indefinitely

This recommendation is an effective repeal of Ohio’s clean energy standards. Every one of the four monopoly utilities in Ohio – AEP, DP&L, Duke, and FirstEnergy – already has met the 2014 benchmarks for efficiency and renewables. Therefore, under this recommendation, the utilities would have no additional requirement to procure renewable power or offer energy efficiency incentives to their customers.

The justification for this recommendation is such a ruse, too. The committee recommends the standards be suspended until there is more certainty on the Clean Power Plan – the USEPA’s historic move to cut the US’s carbon pollution, and finally do the right thing in addressing the causes of climate change. In fact, analysis after analysis has shown that reinstatement of Ohio’s clean energy standards is by far the most prudent, and cost-effective strategy to achieve the carbon pollution reduction goals set forth in the Clean Power Plan.

Recommendation 2: Provide an expedited process at the PUCO for the review of new utility plans for energy efficiency

Before the “freeze” of the energy efficiency standard, utilities submitted plans to the PUCO every three years that detailed how each utility would reach its energy efficiency goal for the year. Subsequently, stakeholders like the OEC, consumer allies, business groups, etc., would have the opportunity to weigh in on these plans, provide input and urge for the strongest efficiency programs possible.

It was a thorough, and sometimes lengthy, process. But, with the standards frozen indefinitely, and efficiency programs happening only on a voluntary basis, do we really expect a long queue at the PUCO that would warrant an “expedited process”? And, reading between the lines here, could an expedited process mean less opportunity for careful review and stakeholder input?

Recommendation 3:  Investigate and ensure maximum credit for all of Ohio’s energy initiatives

Basically, the study committee wants utilities to be able to call different types of technologies that are not renewable, “renewable” so they can meet benchmarks without having to actually invest in cleaner, renewable energy products.

On the one hand, the Study Committee says mandates are bad and must, therefore, be eliminated! But on the other hand, the renewable energy credits you receive for a renewable project, or the energy efficiency rebate you get to install new lighting are an attractive revenue stream and we (the Study Committee) think more people should be able to enjoy these benefits.

Recommendation 4: Switch from energy mandates to energy incentives

This section reads like a grab bag for utilities and prioritizes their interests over those of the consumer.

One of the best examples of this involves changes to how much homeowners and businesses with rooftop solar are compensated for the energy they generate. Currently, utilities are required to purchase any excess energy produced by rooftop solar for a fair rate. If the study committee has its way, these property owners will be compensated at a rate much lower than what their excess power is worth, making it more difficult to get these projects financed and built.

There’s only one word for this: Outrageous!

Recommendation 5: Declare that the General Assembly retains statutory authority with respect to energy policy and dispatch protocols

This recommendation reads like a none–too-subtle warning to the Kasich Administration regarding the Clean Power Plan. Since cutting carbon pollution is an obligation that falls on the executive branches of the states, the Ohio General Assembly is attempting to usurp Gov. Kasich’s authority as the state proceeds with crafting an implementation plan for the carbon pollution standards.

In sum, crafting a common-sense energy policy for the State of Ohio is hard work. We got a good start to improving Ohio’s energy policy in 2012 when Governor Kasich initiated SB 315, which added new elements to the clean energy standards without weakening them. But the extreme voices in the legislature derailed many of the good ideas in that legislation.

Those on our side of this debate are ready for the hard road; our trunks are all packed and we are ready to go. We are facing some serious challenges in Ohio, and we’ve got to see a maturation of the debate around Ohio’s clean energy standards. If we don’t, Ohio will be sitting idle as the clean energy era leaves us behind.