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Ohio senator pushes bill to extend freeze on renewables, energy efficiency

Louisville, Kentucky — Ohio State Senator Bill Seitz, chairman of the Senate Public Utilities Committee and a staunch critic of government mandates, is leading a legislative charge to extend a current two-year freeze of the state's renewable and energy efficiency standards until 2020.

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Seitz, a Republican in a GOP-controlled General Assembly, is racing to pass his newly filed bill, S.B. 320, before lawmakers leave Columbus at the end of May for their annual summer break.

But time is running out, and Seitz conceded in an interview it is increasingly likely a final resolution may not come until the Legislature reconvenes for a brief fall session after the general elections in November.

Under the state's 2008 renewable portfolio standard law, utilities must get at least 25% of their power by 2025 from renewables such as wind and biomass as well as clean coal, with a small carve-out for solar energy. Half of the total must come from within the state. Utilities also must cut electricity use by 22.1% over that period through a variety of energy efficiency measures.

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Gov. John Kasich signed the existing freeze law, S.B. 310, in 2014, but has questioned the wisdom of extending the moratorium another three years.

Undaunted, Seitz is pushing ahead, believing that escalating efficiency requirements under the law will hit Ohio consumer pocketbooks hard.

If the freeze is lifted and the Ohio Public Utilities Commission approves new plans, "Bob and Betty Buckeye will be on the hook for millions of dollars in [new] mandates," he said.

To Seitz, uncertainty over the Environmental Protection Agency's new Clean Power Plan provides another impetus to keep the lid on state standards. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to delay implementation of the CPP, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions thought by many scientists to contribute to global climate change.

"We should know more about the CPP by 2020," he said, adding, "we may need mandates if it survives judicial scrutiny."

Seitz, a member of the Legislature since 2001, insisted he is not opposed to clean energy and is not merely doing the bidding of utilities and the fossil-fuel industry.

In Ohio, coal continues to fuel more than 50% of the state electric generation, and at least five new natural gas-fired plants are in development. "I am for reliable, affordable electricity," he said, "and I believe clean energy can be accomplished short of mandating its use."

If renewables and energy efficiency are "so wonderful" then why are mandates necessary, Seitz asked. "If East Berlin was such a wonderful place, why did they build a wall around it to keep everyone from getting out?"

Environmental and consumer advocates oppose the bill to extend the freeze, arguing that, because of the freeze, Ohio is missing out on millions of dollars in clean energy investment.

"Yet again, the General Assembly would rather kick the can down the road than carry out their own, self-imposed assignment to come up with a reasonable energy policy for Ohio," Trish Demeter, managing director of energy for the Ohio Environmental Council, said in an email Thursday. "We need strong leadership from Governor Kasich and cooler heads in the General Assembly to get to work and put Ohio's green energy future back on track."

Seitz is "trying to sell us rotary telephones and the Pony Express," added Jen Miller, director of the Sierra Club's Ohio Chapter.

--Bob Matyi, newsdesk@platts.com
--Edited by Valarie Jackson, valarie.jackson@spglobal.com