CLEVELAND – Ohio lawmakers are not going to allow electric utilities to seek rate increases solely to buttress sagging credit ratings, as requested by one state utility
And they are shutting the door on more than $4.2 billion in new wind farm investment that has been blocked by restrictive state zoning requirements enacted three years ago.
These two unrelated energy issues cropped up in recent weeks in the state’s budget bill, a 5,000-page document laying out the state’s budgeted expenditures as well as economic development initiatives.
A conference committee representing the House and Senate voted to remove provisions added to the bill that would have allowed utilities to seek credit rating-related increases. And they rejected an amendment that had been added to give wind developers a reason to return to Ohio.
The full House and Senate are set to vote on the budget bill Wednesday afternoon.
The restrictive 2014 wind zoning change had effectively tripled the distance a wind turbine can be from adjacent property not part of a wind farm. No wind farms have been built since.
New language allowing the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to consider a utility’s credit rating as a reason for a rate increase mysteriously appeared in the budget bill last week, after committee hearings on the bill had ended.
DP&L, Inc., owner of Dayton Power & Light, has confirmed that it asked for the language and said it merely codified what the PUCO could already do. The company’s credit rating is sagging and consumer groups have challenged recent rate increases.
The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and seven other customer groups, including those representing heavy industry, campaigned against the DP&L proposal as a backdoor way the traditional utilities would use to funnel new customer money to their unregulated subsidiaries.
Those companies, such as FirstEnergy Solutions, own power plants competing against new highly efficient gas turbine power plants and wind farms throughout the region. They are said to be losing money.
Sen. Cliff Hite, a Findlay Republican whose districts contains the state’s major wind farms and farmers eager to host additional wind farms, publicly introduced an amendment to the budget bill last week when the Senate was considering modifications to the legislation.
Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, and Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, a Republican from Clarksville, in Clinton County, were said to be at loggerheads over the wind turbine regulation changes during negotiations that went until 3 a.m. Tuesday.
Sources who were not part of the final negotiations and not authorized to speak about them said Rosenberger rejected not only the position of the Senate to allow new wind development but also resisted or ignored a massive effort by nearly 100 businesses and business groups, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, to persuade lawmakers to relax the 2014 changes.
The Conference Committee of top lawmakers from each chamber took up the final version of the legislation Tuesday evening, in a meeting that lasted past 11 p.m.
The six-member committee worked its way through more than 600 separate disagreements between the Senate and House versions of the bill and scuttled most of the amendments brought by Democrats.
Both the House and Senate are scheduled to vote on the legislation in a session scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. No further amendments will be accepted and the choice is an “up or down” vote.
Gov. Kasich has until June 30 to sign the legislation into law, or risk a shutdown of state government.
The legislature is tentatively planning a July 6 session to override line-item vetoes made by Kasich.
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