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Amended bill revises Ohio renewable energy mandates, wind setback restrictions

Ohio lawmakers have renewed efforts to change the state's renewable energy and energy efficiency benchmarks for electric utilities, but it is unclear if the governor will again shoot down the plan.

The latest substitute version of House Bill 114 would require that 8.5% of the electricity sold by investor-owned utilities in 2022 and every year thereafter come from renewable resources such as wind, hydro and biomass, with 0.34% from solar. The current mandate requires utilities to source 12.5% of their retail electric supplies with renewable energy in 2026, with 0.5% of that from solar. The current benchmarks gradually increase from 4.5% in 2018 to 8.5% in 2022 to 12.5% in 2026 and future years.

The revised bill also lowers the cumulative energy efficiency benchmarks to 17.2% in 2026, down from 22.2% by 2027. The legislation eliminates energy efficiency requirements after 2026.

The Ohio Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee adopted the amended bill May 16, according to The (Toledo, Ohio) Blade.

The legislation must still be approved by the full Ohio General Assembly and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In December 2016, Kasich vetoed a similar bill that would have essentially extended a freeze on the state's renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. American Electric Power Co. Inc. and FirstEnergy Corp. were among the investor-owned utilities that supported the freeze enacted in June 2014 as a way for the state to evaluate future programs and temporarily halt "further bill increases" tied to the "costly" mandates.

The benchmarks were reinstated as of Jan. 1, 2017, but remain a target for lawmakers.

The Ohio House of Representatives in late March 2017 overwhelmingly passed an earlier version of H.B. 114 that would make the renewable energy mandate a goal while weakening and ultimately ending efficiency targets. The bill, introduced by Rep. Louis Blessing, advanced to the state Senate on a 65-31 vote.

Sen. Bill Beagle offered the latest version as a compromise he hopes will win over the governor and legislature, The Blade reported. The bill also seeks to resolve a fight over siting rules for wind turbines.

The bill, similar to other failed proposals, seeks to establish setback rules for wind projects of 1,225 feet from the tip of a turbine's nearest blade to the exterior of the nearest habitable residence, rather than the nearest property line. The provisions would apply to wind farms of at least 5 MW.

The state tightened setback requirements on wind projects in 2014.

"The setback reform provisions included in the Ohio Senate's Sub House Bill 114 represent a true compromise that would move the state's property line setback to a level more stringent than pre-2014 distances and that encourages smart wind development and restores individual property rights," wind developer Apex Clean Energy President and CEO Mark Goodwin said in a May 17 statement. "We encourage the legislature and Governor Kasich to approve this measure before the summer recess to allow billions of dollars of investment from utility-scale wind development in Ohio to proceed."

Ohio Rep. Fred Strahorn has introduced similar legislation, House Bill 604, to ease the minimum setback requirements for wind farms of 5 MW or more.