May/June 2014 Newsletter:

Senate Bill 310 Would Freeze Ohio Energy Standards

By Tim Kovach

As you may have heard, Ohio Republicans are attempting to force through a dangerous new plan to freeze Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standards indefinitely.

The Ohio Senate Republican leadership, including Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) and Senator Troy Balderson (R-Zainesville) introduced Senate Bill 310 on Friday, March 28. SB 310 calls for an immediate freeze on energy efficiency and renewable energy standards at their current 2014 levels and for the creation of an “Energy Mandates Study Committee” to review existing law.

As a refresher, Governor Strickland signed Substitute Senate Bill 221 (SB 221) into law on May 1, 2008, making Ohio one of 29 states (plus DC) in the country to establish energy efficiency resource standards (EERS). The bill mandates that the state’s investor-owned utilities (AEP, Dayton Power & Light, Duke Energy, and FirstEnergy) reduce their energy consumption by 22.2% by 2025. This mandate is broken down into yearly increments, which gradually increase over time. The bill also instituted peak demand energy reduction requirements and a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The latter requires utilities to generate at least 25% of their electricity from advanced energy sources by 2025.

While the policy has become beset by partisanship, there was nothing controversial about SB 221 in the spring of 2008. The bill passed both the Ohio House and Senate overwhelmingly by votes with 93-1 and 32-0 votes, respectively. There are still 23 GOP legislators in the Statehouse today who voted for the bill, including Senator Faber and Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), the most vociferous opponent of the clean energy standards.

When the bill was introduced, Senator Faber told the Columbus Dispatch that Ohio has “spent $1.1 billion since 2009 on energy efficiency” and that he is “not quite sure what we’ve gotten out of it.” But just because Senator Faber doesn’t know what Ohio has gotten in return for its investments doesn’t mean that the rest of us are equally oblivious.

In fact, there is ample evidence that SB 221 has been a remarkable success. A 2009 analysis of energy efficiency mandates in 14 states found that, on average, every $1 invested generates at least $3 in savings for consumers. In Ohio, ratepayers saved $1.70-$4.20 for every dollar invested in efficiency in 2011. And economists with the Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) concluded that renewable energy has already lowered electricity prices by 0.51%.

Moreover, according to a 2013 report from economists at Ohio State, SB 221 has helped reduce electricity use and overall energy demand in the state by 2.6% and 2%, respectively. Through the end of 2012, Ohioans have enjoyed a cumulative savings of at least 5 million megawatt hours (MWh), more than the annual energy use of all households in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Dayton combined.

Provided we keep these standards in place, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy projects that Ohio can reduce its total electricity consumption by 64 million MWh through 2025, which would save ratepayers nearly $19 billion on their electricity bills.

SB 221 has also helped drive the steady growth of Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors. In 2007, there was less than 9 MW of combined wind and solar energy in the entire state. Last October, Environment Ohio reported that Ohio had 429 MW of wind and 95 MW of installed solar capacity.

The growth of these industries has been a boon for our economy. It sparked more than $660 million in public and private investment in 2012 alone. More than 25,000 Ohioans are employed in the advanced energy industry, and the state is home to more wind-related manufacturing plants than any other. These investments can continue to grow, but only if we protect SB 221’s clean energy standards.

The Blue Creek Wind Farm, located in Van Wert and Paulding counties, demonstrates the importance of this legislation. Without SB 221, this project, which created 180 jobs and provides $2.8 million in annual local tax revenues, would have never have occurred. As the project developer told Environment Ohio, “Early development plans for the Blue Creek Wind Farm placed it just inside the Indiana border. But passage of SB 221 in 2008 caused us to shift our plans a few miles to the east and develop the project in Ohio.”

Lastly, SB 221 has benefited public health. In 2007, Ohio got 85% of its electricity from coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. This dependence on coal has taken a serious toll. Coal-fired power plants cause 13,200 premature deaths, 20,400 heart attacks, and 217,600 asthma attacks each year. Ohio ranked 2nd in 2010 for in coal-related mortality risk, while Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus were all in the top 12 among metro areas.

Thanks in part to SB 221, the share of Ohio’s electricity generated by coal has fallen by 20% in just 5 years, improving the quality of our air and water. And this does not even touch upon climate change, though the bill has also reduced greenhouse gas emissions. This legislation is not just saving us money; it’s saving people’s lives as well.

Senator Faber made it clear that he hopes to rush this bill through the legislature and have it on the Governor’s desk before the May recess. The GOP is counting on the idea that you aren’t paying attention to this issue or that you will buy into the misinformation they are spreading. SB 310 supporters will say and do nearly anything to prove their fealty to the fossil fuel industry.

On April 9, Sen. Seitz had the audacity to tell Sierra Club organizer and Iraq War veteran Dan Sawmiller that SB 221 was “on the Bataan death march for clean energy.” This type of outlandish, disgusting rhetoric is, unfortunately, par for the course for Sen. Seitz and it shows the lengths that clean energy opponents will go in service of groups like ALEC and FirstEnergy.

But these individuals should be wary of their actions, as Ohioans overwhelmingly support the state’s standards. In a recent poll, 72% of respondents want support the existing mandates, while a solid plurality (49%) oppose SB 310. These results back of findings from last fall, when the Yale Project on Climate Communications found that 59% of Ohioans support the renewable energy standards, even if they cost $100 more per year. Republicans may be buying what FirstEnergy and ALEC are selling, but this is clearly a case of buyer beware.

As we can see, the Ohio GOP is not targeting SB 221 because it has failed to work; they’re targeting it precisely because it has worked so well. In order to defend the well-being of economy, environment, and the people of our state, Ohioans need to stand up and protect SB 221.