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Ohio's governor must decide fate of clean energy mandates

Ohio lawmakers, along with clean energy advocates, are waiting to see if Gov. John Kasich was bluffing when he vowed to veto legislation that threatens the state's renewable energy standards.

The Ohio Senate voted late Dec. 8 to amend and approve a bill that will make compliance with Ohio's clean energy benchmarks voluntary for the next two years. The Ohio House of Representatives agreed to the changes Dec. 9.

The House of Representatives voted Dec. 6 to approve a substitute version of H.B. 554, which would lift Ohio's freeze on clean energy mandates but make compliance voluntary through 2020. The version approved by the full General Assembly requires utilities to meet state benchmarks beginning in 2019. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio would review compliance for each previous year beginning in 2020.

The initial version of H.B. 554, introduced in May by Rep. Ron Amstutz, was written to freeze the state's renewable energy and solar energy benchmarks for investor-owned utilities at 2014 levels through at least 2027 while eliminating specific peak demand reduction and energy efficiency benchmarks. The approved bill makes compliance voluntary for 2017 and 2018, but requires utilities to generate 5.5% of the electricity sold to consumers from renewable energy resources in 2019, with 0.22% coming from solar sources.

The legislation comes two years after Kasich signed S.B. 310, which put a hold on the state's clean energy requirements through the end of this year. The law keeps renewable energy benchmarks at 2014 levels of 2.5% for 2015 and 2016, of which 0.12% of energy sold must be generated from solar resources. The benchmarks for renewable energy resources increase by 1 percentage point each year from 2017 through 2026, at which time 12.5% of the electricity sold must come from renewable resources such as wind, hydro and biomass, with 0.5% from solar.

The standards, enacted in 2008, called for Ohio's investor-owned utilities to put in place energy efficiency and peak demand reduction programs that would lead to cumulative electricity savings of 22% by 2025.

H.B. 554 allows utilities to "bank" certain energy efficiency savings and peak demand reductions and be rewarded through shared savings. The bill also lowers the cumulative energy savings goal to 17% by the end of 2027, while requiring utilities to meet a 1% energy efficiency benchmark from 2017 through 2025. The benchmark increases to 2% for 2026 and 2027.

Compliance for energy efficiency and peak demand reductions also would not be required until 2019.

Kasich Press Secretary Emmalee Kalmbach said there is nothing new to report regarding the governor's views on the mandates. It is also unclear when Kasich will make his decision to either sign or veto the legislation, but the freeze on clean energy benchmarks is scheduled to be lifted Jan. 1, 2017.