When Gov. John Kasich vetoed another two-year freeze on the state’s renewable energy benchmarks last year, his fellow Republicans in the Legislature promised they’d be back with a total repeal of those benchmarks. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports they appear to have taken the first step.
Amid the rush in December, Gov. John Kasich vetoed a bill that would have frozen for another two years the state’s renewable energy standards for electric utilities. He says it would “do self-inflicted damage to Ohio’s economic competitiveness."
He'd telegraphed that veto to lawmakers in Ohio while speaking at an appearance at the University of Texas last September.
“If you try and kill the standards, whether it has to do with the renewables or whether it has to do with the issue of saving energy, I’ll veto the bill,” Kasich warned.
That bill would have made the renewable energy benchmarks voluntary goals instead of required mandates for the utilities for two years. Kasich and others viewed last year’s proposal as a continuation of the two-year freeze lawmakers passed for the standards in 2014, and he had repeatedly had said he couldn’t support an indefinite freeze.
After that veto, supporters of the freeze vowed they’d be back right away. And two months into the new two-year session, half the House is co-sponsoring a bill from Cincinnati Republican Rep. Lou Blessing that would make a major change in the renewable energy law by abandoning the state’s mandates and the penalties for not meeting them.
“Now it is permanently goals. So there’s no compliance portion of the renewable portfolio standard,” Blessing said.
Making standards optional
Blessing’s bill also reduces the energy-efficiency goals for the next decade by a fifth. And it allows many businesses to opt-out of clean energy charges from electric utilities.
Blessing maintains it’s not a total repeal. However, the chief opponent of the standards says the bill is where he thinks the state should go with repeal.
In December, then-Sen. Bill Seitz, also a Cincinnati Republican, had issued a furious statement blasting Kasich for his veto. He said then he’d work for a total repeal in this new session. He’s now in the House.
“What I said when I said we’re going to repeal – we’re going to repeal the mandate. This is what everybody keeps forgetting about. I am against the mandate. I am not against clean energy. That’s why I’ve got 29 solar panels on my roof. I am not against clean energy,” Seitz said. “But I am against the state mandating that the utilities do it and pass the cost on to you and me.”
'More of the same'
The law creating the benchmarks passed almost unanimously in April 2008. It got the votes of every senator at the time, including Seitz.
But he and others who supported the law then say things have changed, largely because of lower prices for natural gas. They now say the benchmarks are increasing costs for ratepayers and giving an unfair advantage to renewable-energy industries. And this bill continues the battle they’ve been fighting for the last three sessions to change the law.
“Here we go again. It’s more of the same,” said Trish Demeter with the Ohio Environmental Council, which supports the benchmarks. She says that Blessing’s bill is basically a repeal of the green-energy standards that were frozen in 2014, in the first major change to the 2008 law. And she says her side is geared up to fight too.
“I question why we’re having the debate all over again. There were over 135 people who opposed that legislation. And the governor’s own veto message says exactly why we need to go in a different direction,” Demeter said. “So it’s kind of a waste of time, in my view, to go down this path again. But we’re ready and we have a lot of the evidence on our side.”
Both sides have what they call evidence. The conservative think-tank the Buckeye Institute says Ohio could lose more than 134,000 jobs and $15.5 billion in gross domestic product in the next 10 years if the benchmarks are not repealed. But a study commissioned by the Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund in October said almost exactly the opposite – that the standards could create 136,000 new jobs and grow the state’s GDP by $6.7 billion.