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COLUMBUS — The Ohio House moved legislation March 30 softening the state’s renewable and energy efficiency standards, months after Gov. John Kasich vetoed a comparable bill sent to his desk by the legislature.
HB 114 passed on a vote of 65-30 and heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.
Republicans mostly supported the bill.
“Contrary to much of what we have heard today, this bill has nothing to do with climate change or health,” said Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati). “This is not about whether renewable energy is good or bad. It is not about whether energy efficiency is good or bad… This is a bill about whether mandates on renewable power are the best way to get to the clean energy future that all of us at some level endorse.”
Democrats mostly opposed.
“Are we doing this again and again and again? Really?” asked Rep. Mike Ashford (D-Toledo), adding later, “If this is not a job-killer, I don’t know what is.”
The vote total is noteworthy in that signifies adequate support in the House to override another Kasich veto — 60 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate would be required to accomplish that task.
Republican Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) told reporters March 29 he wasn’t sure whether there was veto-proof support in the Senate. The chamber OK’d last year’s legislation on a vote of 18-13, short of the number needed to override.
“We had five no votes in the last general assembly on HB 554…,” he said. “All five of the no votes are back. And we’ve had five or six new members, I’m not sure how those affect that vote total.”
HB 114 traces its origins to law changes enacted nearly a decade ago requiring power companies to generate a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources and to institute efficiency initiatives.
The standards called for 25 percent of the energy to be created from advanced sources by 2024 and a reduction of electricity use by 22 percent by 2025. Utilities are allowed to pass the costs of meeting the mandates onto their customers.
Several ago, however, Statehouse Republicans moved legislation freezing the mandates and creating a study committee to offer recommendations for future energy-related law changes.
And late last year, with the latter report in hand, the Ohio House and Senate moved Republican-backed legislation that would have made the energy mandates voluntary and softened annual energy efficiency targets.
Kasich vetoed that bill, and the mandates restarted this year, but Republicans indicated that they would again pursue the legislation this session.
HB 114 is comparable to the bill that was vetoed late last year, effectively making the mandates goals.
Backers of the freeze said the standards in place are higher than those in other states.
Seitz said 21 other states have no renewable portfolio mandates, and no state has adopted such mandates since the end of the recession. Some states have repealed their earlier mandates, following the discovery of oil and natural gas deposits in shale formations.
Seitz added that companies were adopting green energy options without being required to do so.
“You don’t need mandates to have clean energy,” he said.
Rep. Louis Blessing III (R-Cincinnati) added, “The philosophy behind the bill is simple: In a world where it is extremely easy to go green, mandates are simply not necessary. It is very easy to go green today…. If you want 100 percent renewable energy, then you are free to buy 100 percent renewable energy.”
Backers of the bill also said the mandates are arbitrary and drive up energy costs for all customers.
“It’s not fair to expect Bob and Betty Buckeye to pick up the tab for that,” said Rep. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson). “I think it’s nothing short of selfish to do that.”
Opponents, however, say eliminating the mandates would reverse course on green energy advancements that are needed to protect the environment and hurt manufacturers of wind turbines and solar panels and other related green industries.
“We’re the first generation to really understand the human causes of climate change, and unfortunately we’re the last generation that can do anything about it,” said Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus). “What we’ve tried to do in the state of Ohio, I think, with these energy standards is very, very important. And I think given the problems that the climate and the environment is facing because of excess CO2 in the environment, I think we can do a lot more.”
Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) said the state’s energy standards are an issue of national security.
“The facts are very clear,” he said. “Our foreign sources of energy and fossil fuels have embroiled the country in costly diplomatic conflicts and placed troops at risk. Why would we not innovate? Why would we not drive innovation and technology in a state as large as ours and the resources that we have available to us.”
House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton) voiced concern about the legislation’s impact on business growth.
“… Some of the major companies, some of the Fortune 100 companies of America, they want this,” he said. “They want to be able to access green energy. America’s most innovative, successful companies are increasingly turning to using renewable energy to power their businesses. So when we look at this bill, you really have to look at it might be killing for Ohio in terms of rolling the standard back.”
Environmental groups also opposed the legislation.
“Today’s House vote is another spin on the ideological merry-go-round that wastes legislator's and taxpayer's time,” Samantha Williams, staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a released statement. “The Senate now has a chance to craft a real energy policy that actually works for businesses and families instead of holding back the clean energy jobs that are growing at a thunderous clip in surrounding states.”
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.