It’s still too soon to say how a plan from a handful of state legislators could impact a proposed wind farm in Champaign County, but the proposal has already drawn criticism from environmental groups and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
The Energy Mandates Study Committee, made up of members of both the Ohio House and Senate, released a report Wednesday recommending the state’s current freeze on its renewable energy mandates remain in place indefinitely. The mandates, enacted in 2008, called for a quarter of the state’s energy to come from alternative sources by 2025 – with half of that coming from renewable sources like wind and solar.
The report argued setting mandates could lead to higher energy bills for residents, and also cited uncertainty due to the federal Clean Power Plan – a set of state-by-state goals designed to slash carbon pollution. The report notes Ohio and 14 other states have argued the U.S. EPA does not have that authority.
“Consequently, 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 states.
It also recommended legislators provide incentives to energy companies to offer more voluntary energy efficiency programs.
The report is only a recommendation, and state legislators will ultimately determine how the state’s energy policy should look. If no action is taken, the mandates would automatically be reinstated at the end of next year.
Until state legislators address the issue, it’s still too early to say how the recommendations might affect projects like the Buckeye Wind Farm in Champaign County, said Michael Speerschneider, senior director of permitting for Everpower, the company in charge of the project.
Everpower has been working to develop two wind farms in Champaign County that would include a total of 100 turbines. The company has spent as much as $10 million overall to push wind farms forward in Champaign, Logan and Hardin counties, but has not yet started construction on any of the projects.
The mandates provide an incentive for utilities to purchase energy from wind projects across Ohio, Speerschneider said. That would be tougher if the freeze stands, but not impossible. The company remains committed to the project, he added.
“We need to find a long-term buyer for the power from the wind farm,” Speerschneider said. “While the (mandates) certainly helps that it’s not the end-all-to-be-all. We are looking at other options.”
A separate rule that required tougher setbacks for wind projects from nearby property lines has been an even tougher hurdle for developing new projects, Speerschneider said. Earlier projects like the Champaign County wind farms were approved under the old rules, but the tougher setbacks makes it difficult to develop new wind farms in Ohio, Speerschneider said.
“The setback is pretty difficult to meet, if not impossible in a lot of parts of Ohio and really unprecedented in terms of the level of the distance of setback related to other states across the country,” Speerschneider said.
Opponents of the Champaign County projects have said tougher setbacks are needed to ensure the safety of residents, however. The current fight over the state’s energy policies is complicated, so it’s still too early to say what effect the committee’s recommendations might have in Champaign County, said Chris Walker, an attorney for Union Neighbors United. That group is made up of Champaign County residents who oppose the Champaign County wind farms.
“The study committee is not the General Assembly or the governor’s office, so it’s a recommendation and nothing more at this point,” Walker said.
If the study committee’s recommendations are implemented, Walker said it’s still too hard to know what impact it would have. The federal power plant regulations could have an impact separate from the whether the mandates remain frozen, he added.
“There are several moving parts here, and it’s difficult to predict how all of these will affect the prospects for a wind farm going forward,” Walker said.
Several other environmental groups have argued in the meantime that the freeze has meant the loss of potential jobs and investment across Ohio. Environment Ohio, an environmental advocacy group, issued a report earlier this year that argued the freeze has cost Ohio as much as $218 million in potential energy savings.
However, the study committee cited a report that argued if left in place, the mandates would lead to an increase in unemployment and cost residents about $258 million in personal income by 2026.
Several others have also taken issue with the report’s conclusions, including Kasich.
“A continued freeze of Ohio’s energy standards is unacceptable, 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,” said Joe Andrews, a spokesman for Kasich.