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Ohio business groups at odds on ‘green’ energy bill

A proposal to modify Ohio’s “green” energy standards is a giveaway to utilities and a bad idea for Ohio’s economy, says a coalition of opponents.

The groups, including the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and Advanced Energy Economy Ohio, are talking about Senate Bill 58, a hotly debated measure that would change the state’s rules for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“This benefits the utilities, not the customers,” Eric Burkland, president of the manufacturers trade group, said in a recent meeting with Dispatch reporters and editors.

The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, has said that he is proposing changes to the law that will reduce unfair subsidies. When asked to respond to the critics, he pointed to the support the bill has received from an array of businesses and business groups, such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Industrial Energy Users-Ohio and FirstEnergy.

“OMA is sort of out on an island on this one,” he said. “We’ve got a list a mile long.”

The bill is now being considered by the Senate Public Utilities Committee, of which Seitz is the chairman. He hopes to have it voted out of committee before Thanksgiving, he said.

The measure would create a series of exceptions to the state’s energy-efficiency standards and remove a requirement that utilities purchase half of their renewable energy from in-state sources. It would do so by changing provisions of a 2008 law that says electric utilities have to meet an escalating series of benchmarks for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

While Seitz said that he is leaving the standards mostly intact, Burkland said the changes are so severe that “It makes the standards meaningless.”

The manufacturers group points to examples of its members using the utilities’ programs to reduce electricity usage. This has been particularly helpful for small- and medium-size businesses that otherwise wouldn’t have the resources to make the changes, Burkland said.

Ted Ford, president of Advanced Energy Economy Ohio, opposes repeal of the requirement that utilities buy half of their renewable energy from within the state. He thinks this will undermine years of work by business leaders to attract businesses that make wind- and solar-power components.

“It will effectively end the renewable industry in the state,” he said. His organization is a trade group for a wide array of energy companies.

When asked why many other business groups support the bill, Burkland pointed to provisions that help the largest businesses and would potentially boost the profits of electric utilities. Some of those large businesses are members of the manufacturers association, which hints at the lack of unanimity within many of the organizations.

“It’s an uncomfortable position for a trade-association guy to be in,” he said.

But his group is taking this stand because the broad base of its members would be hurt by the measure, he said.