From leader to loser: Ohio becomes first state in nation to rollback clean energy standards

Friday, June 13, 2014

From leader to loser.

That's the new reputation Ohio will earn as it becomes the first state in the nation to roll back its renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, predicts the Ohio Environmental Council.

"Dirtier air. Higher electric bills. Lost jobs and investment. These are the new 'dividends' in store for Ohio from this major divestiture in clean energy," said Trish Demeter, OEC Managing Director of Energy and Clean Air Programs.

The dubious distinction as a loser occurred today when Ohio Gov. John Kasich  signed Senate Bill 310 into law; a bill that for all practical purposes pulls the plug on Ohio's clean energy standards set for electric utility companies.

Even worse than a tarnished image is the abrupt halt it will cause to the steady progress Ohio was achieving under the standards to clean the air, create jobs, and save consumers money on their electric bills.

Since Ohio's clean energy standards took effect just 6 years ago, Ohioans have been enjoying tremendous benefits:

  • Cleaner air: Each year, the standards are preventing the following dangerous air emissions: 40,000 tons of particle pollution-causing sulfur dioxide, 9,000  tons of ozone smog-causing nitrogen oxides, and 1,000 pounds of birth defect-causing mercury.
  • Consumer savings: Over $1 billion of documented consumer savings on electric utility bills, a 2:1 ROI.
  • Jobs and investment: 25,000 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment in the green energy sector.

It's a reputation that runs counter to the image Ohio long has tried to burnish as a leader and innovator of technology and progress. In addition to its being the birthplace of aviation, Ohio also is home to basic innovations in electric power, including the first electric light bulb, electric traffic light, and electric starter for the automobile. Even America's first wind turbine to generate electricity was built in Ohio (in 1888).

"This is not the Ohio I am proud to call my birthplace and home. Contrary to our history as a state that innovates its way out of problems, now we're sending a message that we will put up with dirty air, value corporate profits over family budgets, and exert hostility towards new investments in clean energy technologies," said Demeter.

Senate Bill 310 halts, for a minimum of two years, Ohio's clean energy standards for Ohio's four monopoly electric utilities enacted in 2008. The standards--which a Republican-controlled legislature effectively reauthorized just two years ago--give utilities until 2025 to eliminate energy waste by 22 percent through improving end-use efficiency and to get 25 percent of their power from renewable and advanced technology energy sources. During the two-year timeout, a 12-member legislative study committee would consider further changes to the standards.

The bill also allows large industrial electricity users to opt out of energy efficiency programs and it scraps the rule that half of utilities' renewable power, as required by the mandates, must come from in-state sources. Even if the annual goals ever kick back into gear after the two-year pause, other poison pill amendments added in the General Assembly render the standards essentially meaningless.

"This law is hardly just a timeout. It guarantees that even if the now-eviscerated standards ever thaw, they will be a toothless tiger of their former self. It's scorched-earth lawmaking at its worst, all to benefit four monopoly utilities and some large industrial customers," said Jack Shaner, Deputy Director of the Ohio Environmental Council.

"Watch for investors to flee Ohio and take their business to the 20-plus states that welcome investment in America's growing clean-energy sector. Ohio might as well hang out a big red neon sign, flashing, Clean Energy Investors Need Not Apply," continued Shaner.

Gov. Kasich's signature today signals a growing backtrack from his previous support for clean energy following a high-profile energy summit sponsored by the governor in 2011 in which he pledged support for an all-of-the-above energy policy, including renewables and efficiency:

  • In 2012, Gov. Kasich signed legislation he requested that actually expanded the clean energy standards to promote cogeneration, which enables factory owners to generate their own power from waste energy. Upon signing the 2012 law, Gov. Kasich declared, "This is a piece of legislation that will last 100 years in Ohio. There's no doubt in my mind." With his signature today on Senate Bill 310, Gov. Kasich has hobbled the very energy policy he championed.
  • In 2013, Gov. Kasich's  then-PUCO chairman disapproved a solar-energy farm proposed for former coal-mined lands in Southeast Ohio, a project that promised to be the largest solar-energy array east of the Mississippi River. In addition to hundreds of on-site construction jobs, an Ohio-based solar panel manufacturer that was to supply the farm had been set to create 300 new jobs in Northwest Ohio.

Today's action follows a ferocious, two-year Statehouse battle that pitted a broad array of supporters of the clean energy standards, including clean-energy investors, manufacturers, consumer advocates, faith leaders, veterans groups and environmental-conservation groups against utility-giant FirstEnergy and a handful of large industrial energy users.

Last month, the Koch Brothers entered the fray and announced their support for the bill, revealing the coal industry's priority for smothering America's growing clean energy sector.

But the OEC believes today's bad news is only a way station, not the final destination in Ohioans' demand for new, clean energy technologies.

"Try as they might, today's Ohio leaders cannot deny the future. That future is saving consumers money and growing new green-collar jobs and investment, all while shrinking greenhouse gases. All across America, that future is  arriving. One day, it will return to Ohio," said Shaner.

"We are hardly giving up. We will continue to fight for a cleaner, more vibrant energy future that puts clean air, consumers, and efforts to build a clean energy future at the top of Ohio's agenda," concluded Demeter.