Lawmakers take up solar energy rule
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Battle lines are being drawn over whether Ohio should scrap its renewable energy standard, which requires power companies to generate a portion of their electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind.
In hearings last week, Ohio Senate Public Utilities Chairman Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, reopened discussions on the 2008 state law, which said utilities must produce 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2025. The law also set energy efficiency targets to be met by the companies.
A surge in shale gas drilling that's promising new domestic supplies of a traditional energy source has added a new twist to the debate.
Opponents of the mandates say they fatten electric bills in a state whose rates are already higher than some neighbors. Some also question global warming and those who use it to push for reduced use of coal-fired power plants.
Supporters of the thresholds, in place in 29 states and the District of Columbia, say the mandates help the environment by beginning to replace use of coal-fired technology while spurring economic investments and new high-paying jobs in science and technology.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a policy advisory group dominated by Republicans and targeted by liberals, is a leading force behind the push against the renewable energy targets. Ohio is among states to which the council has provided model legislation eliminating the targets for renewables, dubbed the Electricity Freedom Act.
Seitz is active in the council and Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Todd Snitchler, the state's top utility regulator, is a past member who became a guest speaker for the group after taking his regulatory appointment from Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
As evidence of the council's influence in the debate, among early witnesses called on the subject this week was James Taylor, a senior fellow with the Heartland Institute, a leading voice in promoting skepticism about climate change. The institute hosts regular conferences on the topic drawing hundreds of participants to hear dozens of speakers, according to its website.
Among the sessions at its last conference was a panel of former NASA astronauts, scientists and administrators who "described how NASA is damaging its reputation for sound science by issuing false and exaggerated predictions of future climate change."
Taylor testified during the Ohio hearing, as he has in other states, that air pollution is in a decline that will continue even without requiring power companies to use expensive wind and solar technology.
Environment Ohio, which pushed for the 2008 law passed under then-Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, issued a report following Seitz's hearing labeling the law a success story.
The review showed that between January 2009 and December 2011, Ohio's four largest utilities implemented energy efficiency programs that saved 3.2 million megawatt-hours of electricity -- enough to power 267,000 homes for a year.
It noted that 412 megawatts of wind capacity and 45 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity were added in Ohio between 2009 and 2012. That's enough to power 95,000 Ohio homes.
Policy Advocate Julian Boggs said in releasing the report that "we've only scratched the surface of Ohio's untapped potential for clean energy."
"It's the 21st century, and our energy doesn't need to pollute our air and water," he said.