House Overwhelmingly Passes Bill To Change State's Green Energy Requirements On Utilities Into Goals

Mar 30, 2017

A bill to change the state’s green energy benchmarks on electric utilities from requirements to goals is halfway through the Statehouse. But in spite of the overwhelming vote in the House, the bill faces an uncertain future.

This bill picks up where a measure vetoed last December leaves off. It takes the renewable energy requirements lawmakers put on utilities almost ten years ago and turns those into goals. And those goals would not have penalties attached if they’re not met. The bill’s main sponsor is Republican Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati).  “The philosophy behind the bill is simple – in a world where it is extremely easy to go green, mandates are simply not necessary.  It is very easy to go green today.”

Republicans have been trying for several years to change the requirements – they froze them for two years starting in 2014 while the costs of those mandates were studied, by lawmakers who in many cases opposed them. Republicans who back the change note that 20 states don’t have green energy mandates, and they argue that imposing requirements is costly and that utilities are moving toward more renewable energy on their own.  But Democrats put up several of their own arguments against the change from requirements to goals, such as the positive impact of renewables on water and air pollution and concerns that hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost in the state’s growing renewable industry.  Rep. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) told his colleagues: “So it is your choice, men and women of the General Assembly. $3.4 billion in economic activity, $118 million worth of taxes, or algae blooms, water shortages and 85 days more of 90-degree heat or more.”

Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton) said, “This bill in its current form, I believe, is an investment killer and a job killer and more importantly, it sends us backwards instead of having us focused on the future of the economy in the state of Ohio.”

But Republican Ron Young (R-Leroy Township) said that job creation has been very expensive, and since so many strides have been made in removing lead, carbon monoxide and other pollutants, that money is no longer buying appreciably cleaner air. “We’ve improved the air dramatically. Further reductions at a great cost to our citizens is just one bridge too far. So I think it’s time we look at some reasonable proposals. The one we’re looking at today is a reasonable one.”

But the most vocal critic of the requirements, Republican Bill Seitz, said the measure wasn’t about climate change, health impacts or jobs - it was simply about changing state requirements into options that anyone can consider. And he has done so – he’s installed solar panels on his Cincinnati home.

Not all Republicans were on board. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) said he wasn’t supporting the bill – which he called “mandate lite” – because it didn’t go far enough in scrapping the green energy benchmarks. It’s an interesting turn for an issue that passed almost unanimously in 2008, but Republicans will point out that was before the shale boom in Ohio brought natural gas prices way down. Democrat Mike Ashford (D-Toledo) said that the issue has come up in the last five general assemblies, and he expects the debate to continue.

“We can go on all day long and we can counterpoint each other about what’s important, the pros and cons of this bill. But we’ve been doing this for almost nine years and we gonna do it again because we know if passed, your governor is going to veto it because he’s already told everybody that.”

The House would need 60 votes to override a veto from Gov. John Kasich. But Speaker Cliff Rosenberger said he thinks the 65-30 vote speaks for itself. “I think we just sent a very clear message that we’re very serious about this. It now goes to the Senate. They can deliberate it. But we feel very strongly that this is the right pathway for the state. We are always open to sit and work with the administration.”

Four Democrats joined the Republican supermajority in voting for it – three Republicans broke with their caucus and voted against it. The Senate vote on last year’s similar bill was 18-13, and Senators would need 20 votes to override the expected veto.