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‘Green’ advocates in Ohio regroup to combat new energy law

Renewable-energy advocates are asking what’s next as they try to recover from a stinging legislative defeat.

One of the leading advocates, energy consultant Mark Shanahan, gave a pep talk of sorts yesterday, urging the people gathered at a Green Energy Ohio event to dust off and get ready for a continuing debate.

“We need to be actively involved because the facts are on our side,” he said. “This is a debate about our future.”

He spoke to about 30 people in Grandview Heights, part of a series of events put on by the advocacy group for renewable energy and conservation.

A week ago, Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 310, a measure that puts a two-year freeze on annual increases in standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The bill also eliminates a requirement that utilities buy half of their renewable energy from in-state sources, among many other changes.

Energy advocates and others are waiting to see how various players will react to the new law. Among the key points:

• Electricity utilities will have the option to maintain their existing green energy programs during the two-year freeze. AEP has said it intends to maintain its programs, and others are still deciding what to do. It is not yet clear how it will affect renewable-energy or energy-efficiency projects.

• Several large wind farms have been approved by regulators, but given changes in requirements they might no longer make economic sense. Developers of those projects will decide whether to abandon the projects.

• The new law calls for the convening of a study committee made up of legislators. The group will meet and could come up with additional policy recommendations by September of next year.

“We’re back being the underdog,” said Bill Spratley, executive director of Green Energy Ohio. “ Now, we’re going to have to fight back as best we can.”

Shanahan was the top energy adviser to former Gov. Ted Strickland and was involved with passing the 2008 energy law that is being changed.

“The next few years will be tough for Ohio’s clean-energy advocates,” Shanahan said.

During the recent debate, he was part of a coalition of environmentalists, consumer advocates and some businesses that tried to defeat the bill. They said it would hurt the economy and lead to increases in electricity rates.

Supporters of the measure, which include utilities and business groups, said the bill was needed to improve rules that are becoming too costly to follow.

Wind-power companies are dealing with the double blow of S.B. 310 and a provision in a separate bill that requires a larger setback between wind turbines and nearby property lines.

“These bills are very disturbing and troubling,” Michael Speerschneider, chief permitting and public policy officer for EverPower, a Pittsburgh-based wind-power developer.

His company has three wind projects that have been approved by regulators but that have not yet broken ground in Hardin, Logan and Champaign counties.