CLEVELAND –The wind industry’s latest setback at the hands of Ohio lawmakers who have refused to ease three-year-old rules designed to block wind farm development doesn’t mean the industry is going to stop trying.
And the legislature’s simultaneous rejection of an amendment to state utility law enabling electric utilities to seek rate increases to bolster sagging credit ratings doesn’t mean the state’s utility debate is over either.
Both issues got inserted into the state’s budget bill (H.B. 49) in recent weeks. The Senate knocked out the credit ratings language. The House rejected the pro-wind amendments. A Conference Committee of the two chambers revealed those outcomes late Tuesday night. Final vote on the 5,000-page budget legislation is scheduled for this afternoon. While there will be speeches before the vote, no further amendments are permitted and the vote will be up or down.
In the fall, a larger debate on electric utilities – and consumer prices – is in the works. And another legislative effort to welcome wind development in rural Ohio will probably show up in stand-alone legislation.
Ohio Consumers Counsel Bruce Weston, who joined with the Oho Manufacturers’ Association to fight the utility credit ratings proposal, today praised the legislature.
“Kudos to state lawmakers for preventing yet another electric utility maneuver to collect subsidies from Ohioans,” he said. “Hopefully, a next step will be enacting consumer legislation later this year to repeal the 2008 law that utilities have used to charge Ohio families and businesses higher rates than the market price of electricity.”
Manufacturers’ Association President Eric Burkland was just as congratulatory.
“The OMA commends the Conference Committee for recognizing that enabling Ohio’s electric utilities to raise customers’ electric rates to bolster the utilities’ credit ratings is bad public policy,” he said.
“Eliminating this provision from the budget bill will thwart the utilities’ latest ploy to seek a financial bailout by their customers by shifting ordinary business risk from shareholders to ratepayers.”
Chuck Keiper, executive director of NOPEC, which was one of the organizations that joined with the manufacturers and Consumers’ Counsel, called the rejection of the utility credit rating measure “a victory of Ohioans and an important vote for a free market for energy.”
The American Wind Energy Association today also offered praise, but only to the Ohio Senate, for its efforts to reverse the wind turbine zoning change in the law previous that Senate leadership pushed into 2014 budget legislation. The change effectively tripled the distance a wind turbine can be built from property adjacent to a wind farm. It all but killed wind development, though a few previously approved developments were built.
“We appreciate the strong leadership shown by Senator Cliff Hite, [who added the amendment to the bill], Senate President Larry Obhof, and the Senate leadership team who championed this vital regulatory reform,” said Andrew Gohn, Eastern Region Policy Director for the American Wind Energy Association, in a statement.
“With their support in continuing the fight, as well as support from Governor Kasich, we’re confident that common sense will soon prevail and that Ohio will grow more prosperous by unlocking the vast potential of wind power.”
As for the rejection by the House, Gohn offered disbelief: “It’s hard to understand why the Ohio House under the leadership of Speaker Cliff Rosenberger would stand in the way of $4.2 billion dollars of economic development.
“House lawmakers turned their backs on Ohio’s businesses and rural communities with this decision. They turned away economic growth by ignoring the business community’s plea to make Ohio attractive for companies wishing to power their facilities with renewable energy. And they ignored the needs of the state’s rural communities, who would have seen enormous investment if setbacks had been fixed.”
Both the House and Senate are expected to issue statements later today on the budget bill.
The continuing debate about the health of the Ohio’s traditional utilities under the state’s 17-year migration toward deregulating the industry, forcing competition and giving customers the choice of power providers is expected to begin in September when at least three bills will be debated.
Two of the bills, one designed to allow FirstEnergy to collect additional fees from customers to keep its nuclear power plant fleet profitable and another aimed at allowing all of the state’s utilities that own a portion of a pair of 60-year-old coal-fired power plans built to power a now-closed defense industry uranium enrichment plant, have already had several hearings and could have votes of the full House and Senate in the fall.
Both bills are designed to raise customer delivery rates in order to funnel money to the power plant side of the companies, which are struggling because of lower prices offered by new gas turbine power plants and wind farms.
That has prompted the House to consider legislation that would require the old utilities to get out of the power plant business. House Bill 247, offered by Mansfield area Rep. Mark Romanchuk, a Republican, has not yet had in-depth hearings.
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