If Ohio eases green-energy rules, will it spark national trend?

May 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Ohio is on the cusp of becoming the first state to significantly ease its renewable-energy
standards, a milestone that would be noticed in statehouses across the country where similar
debates are being waged.

Proposals have gained traction in Kansas and several other states and have at least been
introduced in a dozen or so others.

But none has had as much success as Ohio’s Senate Bill 310, which has
passed the Senate and appears poised to pass the House as soon as this
week.

The Ohio bill would place a two-year freeze on annual increases in standards for renewable
energy and energy efficiency. It also would repeal a rule that says utilities must buy half of
their renewable energy from in-state sources and would make it easier for utilities to buy low-cost
hydroelectric power and count it toward the standards.

Many of the same groups with an interest in the subject are active in multiple states. The
American Wind Energy Association, Sierra Club and others are fighting to maintain rules that say
utilities must obtain a certain amount of their energy from renewable sources. Meanwhile, the
American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, and Americans for Prosperity are helping to push
for change in the rules.

The players disagree on whether the apparent support for the Ohio bill is based on
state-specific factors or represents the beginning of a trend that will take hold in other
places.

“I wouldn’t call it a trend,” said Chelsea Barnes, research analyst at Keyes, Fox Wiedman,
a law firm that represents clean-energy clients with offices in California and North Carolina. “
Ohio is an outlier.”

The fact that so many states are exploring changes to their rules is a sign that the rules are
flawed, said Mike O’Neal, president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. He was one of the
leading supporters of a bill that passed the Kansas Senate last year before being defeated in the
House.

“I would tend to think that if there’s a state that pulls back successfully, that there will be
more of an impetus to do that in other states,” he said.

Yesterday, Americans for Prosperity issued a statement supporting the Ohio bill. The national
conservative group, financed in part by billionaires David and Charles Koch, has supported similar
proposals in other states but has not been active on the Ohio plan until now.

Ohio is among a group that includes 29 states and the District of Columbia that have
renewable-energy requirements, which have helped to increase the market for wind, solar and other
renewable energy sources.

Ohio also is one of 22 states that have energy-efficiency rules, which provide incentives to
encourage customers to reduce their electricity use. (Indiana repealed its efficiency standard in
March, becoming the first and only state to do so.)

The state laws were almost all passed in the 2000s; Ohio’s renewable and energy-efficiency rules
were both part of Senate Bill 221 in 2008.

Barnes’ firm tracks activity in each state and has identified 13 types of proposed changes to
the laws that have tended to recur. They range from a complete repeal of renewable-energy rules to
provisions that expand the types of energy that count as renewable. Senate Bill 310 includes at
least six of those types of changes.

The various state proposals are often similar because the same outside groups are helping to
write them, Barnes said.

“It’s been mostly ALEC behind a lot of it,” she said. “Even if it’s not copied and pasted from
their suggested policy language, the intent is the same.”

ALEC brings together state legislators and corporate leaders to write
legislation
that works for “limited government, free markets, and federalism,” according to the
organization’s website. Sen.
Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, one of the leading backers of the Ohio bill, is an
ALEC board member.

Seitz said S.B. 310 is the result of discussions within Ohio in response to Ohio law, and is not
the result of actions by outside players.

“It is a little ridiculous to try to drag ALEC into this,” he said.

dgearino@dispatch.com

@dispatchenergy

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