COLUMBUS, Ohio – After months of work, a legislative study committee has recommended that Ohio should indefinitely freeze its renewable-energy and energy-efficiency mandates.
Gov. John Kasich’s administration, however, has balked at the idea, calling a continued freeze “unacceptable.”
Such a recommendation marks a blow for environmentalists and other supporters of the standards, which Republican lawmakers froze last year after utilities and manufacturers objected to them.
The Energy Mandates Study Committee, in a preliminary report released Wednesday, concluded that Ohio should only require utility companies to get 2.5 percent of their power from renewable energy and cut customers’ power usage by 4.2 percent.
The original mandates, passed in 2008, gave utilities until 2025 to slash customers’ power usage by 22 percent and get 12.5 percent of their power from solar, wind, and other renewable sources.
“The Study Committee believes that continuation of the Mandates will be too costly for Ohioans, and that the penalties for not attaining the Mandates are overly punitive,” the report stated.
The study committee also wrote that it felt “compelled” to recommend freezing the mandates where they are because of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which requires Ohio to reduce power plant carbon emissions by 37 percent between 2012 and 2030. Ohio and other states are challenging the plan in court.
“As long as legal questions remain pending, the General Assembly should refrain from allowing escalating costs to be paid by Ohio ratepayers in the form of increased Mandates or making any significant changes to the State of Ohio’s energy policies without knowing whether the CPP will ever apply,” the report stated.
Instead, the study group recommended, the Ohio General Assembly should pass a law expressly allowing utilities to set up voluntary energy efficiency programs.
Trish Demeter, the Ohio Environmental Council’s managing director of energy and clean air projects, said the recommendations are “very crafty” because it appears lawmakers are keeping the standards in place.
But as utilities have already met the current requirements, she said, the recommendations would effectively do away with the standards altogether.
“If this recommendation becomes law, the way it will be practically applied is that it means no new renewable projects, no more energy efficiency that utilities will be required to do,” Demeter said.
Kasich, a Republican, also took issue with a continued freeze.
“A continued freeze of Ohio’s energy standards is unacceptable,” said administration spokesman Joe Andrews in a statement,” and we stand willing to work with the Ohio General Assembly to craft a bill that supports a diverse mix of reliable, low-cost energy sources while preserving the gains we have made in the state’s economy.”
Utilities, as well as industrial manufacturers, have pushed to halt the mandates, saying they have interfered with the electricity market and would force consumers to pay more.
Doug Colafella, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp., which led last year’s charge against the mandates, declined Wednesday to offer a direct comment on the recommendations.
“We’re going to continue to work on our customers who are interested in cutting their electric use,” Colafella said.
The four Democratic lawmakers on the 13-member study committee recommended resuming the mandates, saying doing so would actually cut consumers’ electric bills and spur the state’s renewable energy industry.
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