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Wind backers worried about state rule change; Lawmaker says ‘‘cry me a river’ to those questioning proposed bill

URBANA – Proposed changes to Ohio’s renewable energy requirements could create more competition among renewable energy providers but also cause concern from the wind industry, including developers of the Buckeye Wind Project in Champaign County.

The legislation, proposed by Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, would review and modify Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, in light of what Seitz said are unexpected developments in Ohio’s energy market over the last five years. Senate Bill 58 would keep requirements in place for how much renewable and alternative energy is used by public utilities by 2025, but it would loosen restrictions on how much of that energy must be purchased from Ohio.

While proponents, including Seitz, argued it would increase competition and lead to lower energy costs for consumers, opponents argued it could create uncertainty among developers that could lead to less investment and jobs within the state.

It’s not yet certain how the legislation could impact wind farms like the Buckeye Wind Project, said Michael Speerschneider, senior director for permitting for Everpower Renewables, the company in charge of the project.

“It’s hard to say,” Speerschneider said. “Clearly the in-state requirement does bring investment to the state.”

Under the current law, 25 percent of the electricity sold by Ohio utilities must be generated from alternative energy sources by 2025. Of that, at least 12.5 percent must come from renewable energy sources including wind, hydro and other sources. The remaining 12.5 percent can come from sources such as nuclear power, certain types of fuel cells and other sources. In addition, at least half of the renewable energy used must be generated at facilities located in Ohio.

That could include wind farms like the second phase of the Buckeye Wind Project. That project was recently approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board but is being fought in court by Union Neighbors United, a group of area residents. Combined with an earlier phase of the project, it would build about 100 turbines across six townships throughout Champaign County.

While supporters have argued the wind farm would mean construction jobs and new tax dollars for the county, opponents have raised concerns with the safety of the project and its proximity to area homes.

Seitz argued the current state rules may be in violation of interstate commerce laws because it prevents utility companies from purchasing energy from suppliers in neighboring states, even though they may be able to provide that energy at a better price.

Under the current rules, for example, Seitz said Ohio can use hydroelectric power from neighboring states, but not Canada, even though it shares a border with Ohio. Much of the opposition to the legislation is from developers who are essentially receiving a subsidy because of the requirement to produce much of that energy in Ohio, Seitz said. He argued his proposal would help the environment but create more competition to produce that energy.

“Cry me a river,” Seitz said of critics. “Is it about being green or making people money?”

But Speerschneider said the current rules have helped create jobs and encourage investment in renewable energy in Ohio, and said courts have not overturned similar laws in other states. By constantly changing the rules, it creates uncertainty for companies that might consider investing in the state, he said.

“Along with that, you get less investment, and less jobs,” Speerschneider said.

But Chris Walker, an attorney who is representing UNU in the local dispute, said the legislation will introduce more competition, which should help keep down prices for Ohio consumers.

“It doesn’t affect the demand side,” Walker said of the proposal. “What it does is expand the supply side.”

By the numbers:

25 – The percent of the electricity sold by each utility or electric services company within Ohio that must be generated from alternative energy sources by the year 2025.

12.5 percent- the amount of electricity that must be generated from renewable energy sources, including wind, hydro, biomass, and at least 0.5 percent solar. The remaining 12.5 percent can come from sources including nuclear, clean coal, and certain types of fuel cells.

50 – The percent of renewable energy used that must be generated at facilities located in Ohio.

Source: Public Utilities Commission of Ohio