The Ohio GOP takes up another front in its all-out assault on clean energy

Senator Bill Seitz
Senator Bill Seitz

Ohio State Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati (courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch)

You know that saying “When God closes a door, he opens a window”? Well, these days in Ohio that should really be more like “When God opens a window, he then changes his mind and repeatedly slams it on your fingers.”

This morning, I briefly got my hopes up when I saw an alert from Gongwer Ohio that the Ohio House had delayed its vote on SB 310. The House GOP caucus had planned to vote the bill out of committee and bring it to the floor today, but given the mounting pressure from wide array of groups, including the business community, it pushed the vote into next week.

charles nelson batchelder

Speaker of the Ohio House William Batchelder

Mike Dittoe, the spokesman for Charles Nelson Reilly…I mean William Batchelder (R-Medina) told the Columbus Dispatch“Members just wanted to talk through the bill a little more.”

Obviously this should be great news. The last scheduled session for the Ohio House before the summer recess is next Wednesday. This would seem to suggest that, if opponents could keep the heat on for a little longer, the House may not pass it before going on vacation. Obviously thinking that is true is a bit naive, but a guy can dream.

So I signed up for a Gongwer trial to read more about the delay. And then I came across this story immediately thereafter: “MBR Amendment Imposes New Siting Requirements For Wind Farms” (subscription required).

From the story:

Senators finishing up work on Gov. John Kasich’s mid-biennium review Tuesday added a provision that the wind industry described as another severe setback for renewable energy in Ohio.

The proposal included in an omnibus amendment to the MBR appropriations measure (HB 483*) would require wind turbines be at least 1,125 feet from neighboring property lines. The current 1,125-foot setback distance applies to inhabited structures on neighbors’ land.

The amendment was adopted in the Senate Finance Committee at the same time the House is preparing to vote on a bill (SB 310*) that would restrict Ohio’s renewable energy standards. (See separate story)

Lobbyist Dayna Baird, who represents the American Wind Energy Association, said the new setback language would “effectively kill all wind development in the state of Ohio.”

For example, of the 152 turbines on the Blue Creek wind farm, the state’s largest wind energy project, only 13 could have been built had the new setback language been in place at the time, she said.

The proposed change comes after state’s wind turbine setback was expanded in last year’s budget bill (HB 59*) from 750 feet from inhabited structures to 1,125 feet from homes.

Did you catch that? The Ohio GOP, just a year after increasing the setback requirement for wind turbines by 50% from 750 to 1,125 feet, has now decided that restriction should apply to neighboring property lines, not residences/structures. It inserted this completely unrelated poison pill into the mid-biennium review budget (MBR) under the cover of night, knowing full well that opponents are already so busy taking on their other assault on clean energy, SB 310, our attention would be diverted.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, there are currently 10 wind projects awaiting approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board. These projects would bring a combined $2.5 billion in investment to the state, largely in underserved areas. But rather than encouraging these investments, which would create good jobs, pollution-free energy, and local tax revenues, the Ohio GOP decided to tell the wind industry to go screw itself.

All of these 10 projects were submitted under the old rule, which required a 750-foot setback. But this amendment will now change this requirement so that the setback applies to property lines, ensuring that they are not in compliance with the law. This change comes immediately on the heels of the Senate ramming multiple poison pills into SB 310 that will have similarly devastating effects on the industry. AWEA has warned that, if this amendment is approved, these 10 projects are dead in the water.

It bears repeating – clean energy employs more than 25,000 Ohioans, and the state currently has the largest wind-related manufacturing industry in the country. But apparently the GOP’s utter fealty to the fossil fuel industry blinds them to these realities and forces them to see anyone working in clean energy as a potential threat. Naturally, Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) immediately hailed the amendment, calling it “long overdue” and saying he “applaud[ed] it heartily.” When the guy who compared clean energy to the Bataan death march supports an amendment, that should tell you all you need to know.

The Ohio GOP is trusting that we are too distracted by SB 310 to pay attention to the rest of their full-frontal assault on this state’s clean energy industry. We can still hope that Governor Kasich uses his line-item veto to strip this provision out of the MBR bill, but that can only happen if we demand it.

Watch the GOP destroy Ohio’s clean energy industry with this one weird trick

ohio statehouse
ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Tom Knox at Columbus Business First just outlined a little-known but incredibly significant part of SB 310 that will have wide-ranging implications for the future of Ohio’s clean energy industry.

From the post:

The bill would allow utilities under a renewable-energy contract to be released from the agreement “if there is a change in the renewable energy resources requirements,” according to the latest version of Senate Bill 310, passed by the Ohio Senate last week and being heard Tuesday in the House Public Utilities Committee.

If American Electric Power Company Inc. (NYSE:AEP), for example, signed a 20-year purchase agreement with a wind turbine company to provide some power for its customers, any future change in renewable energy requirements would allow AEP to void its contract.

While it would not affect existing renewable energy contracts, such as FirstEnergy Solutions’ deal to purchase power from the Blue Creek Wind Farm, it would apply to any new renewable energy contracts signed by one of the four investor-owned utilities after SB 310 becomes law. As Knox notes,

Without a two-decade guarantee of revenue, financial backers of wind projects would be hard-pressed to put up money.

“That is the ultimate done deal, it’s over, kiss all wind renewables gone,” said Jereme Kent, general manager of Findlay-based wind company One Energy LLC. “Even if wind was half the price, you could not sign a contract with that provision.”

With all of the attention surrounding the other God awful provisions in SB 310, including the two-year freeze and the elimination of the requirement that 50% of renewable energy is produced in Ohio, this small clause, buried on line 950 of the legislation (PDF), has been overlooked. Here’s the actual text in question:

Sec. 4928.642.  Every contract to procure renewable energy resources or renewable energy credits entered into by an electric distribution utility or an electric services company on or after the effective date of S.B. 310 of the 130th general assembly shall contain a change-of-law provision. Such a provision shall provide that the parties to the contract are released from their obligations under the contract if there is a change in the renewable energy resource requirements, governed by section 4928.64 of the Revised Code.

Without question, these 80 words inject so much uncertainty and chaos into Ohio’s burgeoning renewable energy industry that they may effectively strangle it in its crib. It’s hard to see any utility-scale renewable energy project getting financing when the utility can simply renege on its deal if any changes are made to SB 310 going forward.

Interestingly, this section was not included in the original form of SB 310 (PDF), as it was introduced to the Senate in March. Rather, someone slipped it in behind closed doors when the GOP leadership rewrote the bill last week.

Given the hands on-role that Governor Kasich played in changing the bill, I can’t help but wonder whether or not he was involved in inserting this section or was aware of it before the bill reached the Senate floor. Either way, the existing of this provision and the Governor’s apparent indifference (if not approval) for it clearly belies his supposed support for the 25,000 clean energy jobs in this state.

In his official statement with Senate President Faber last Thursday, the Governor claimed that SB 221’s standards “are now emerging as a challenge to job creation and Ohio’s economic recovery.” That could not be farther from the truth. The real challenge to job creation and economic growth is SB 310 itself.

The stakes just got even higher in this fight. You can no longer pretend to back clean energy and the jobs and economic development it creates if you support SB 310.

Conservative Ohio group uses push poll to attack clean energy, fails miserably

blue creek wind farm
blue creek wind farm

The Blue Creek Wind Farm in western Ohio (courtesy of Business Wire).

Over at Columbus Business First, energy reporter Tom Knox posted a piece yesterday afternoon titled “Business group poll says Ohio voters want energy efficiency mandates changed.” According to the post, a coalition of Ohio business groups conducted a poll of 800 registered Ohio voters, in which 72% of respondents indicated they wanted the state to revise the energy efficiency and renewable energy standards set by SB 221.

This poll seems extremely bewildering, particularly considering the fact that Ohioans have repeatedly expressed overwhelming support for the clean energy standards on multiple occasions. Just two weeks ago, an identical 72% of Ohioans stated just the opposite, indicating they support the standards in their current form and would oppose revising them.

Moreover, recent nationwide polls find similar results. In a Gallup poll, Americans preferred renewable energy to fossil fuels by a 2-to-1 margin, wanted the government to invest in ramping up renewable energy production 67% to 32%, and supported implementing mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions 63% to 35%. Another poll from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication validates this latter result, finding that Americans support forthcoming EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants by a nearly identical 64% to 35% mark.

So what’s going on here? Perhaps this is just another example of Americans not truly understanding policies or being inclined to support something when it’s phrased one way but not another? We know, for instance, that even as most Americans generally oppose Obamacare, they continually support the actual provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Then I actually looked into the details of the poll. It was conducted by a coalition of business and fossil fuel interests, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and Industrial Energy Users-Ohio. All of these groups have close ties to the fossil fuel industry, particularly FirstEnergy. The group, which is so fly by night that it doesn’t even have a website or bring up anything on Google, has chosen the particularly Orwellian name “Ohioans for Sustainable Jobs.” Apparently fossil fuel industry jobs are sustainable, but Ohio’s 25,000 clean energy jobs are not.

According to Knox’s post, here is the actual text of the question that garnered the headline result, a blatantly transparent example of push polling:

Six years ago, when the Ohio legislature passed the law mandating reductions in electricity consumed, certain assumptions were used to justify the law, many of which were wrong. For example, legislators assumed electricity would be in short supply and new electric generation would be expensive. But today, there’s ample low-cost electricity and will be for years to come. Knowing this … should the Ohio state legislature, taking into account the new information, go back and change the law?

If a college freshman tried to use that question in Statistics 101, s/he’s probably fail the class. The poll was also conducted by The Tarrance Group, a high-price DC polling firm, which brags it “is one of the most widely respected and successful Republican strategic research and polling firms in the nation.”

FirstEnergy and its friends can continue to shell out thousands of dollars to buy the poll results they want, but it won’t change the fact that the people of this state have, do, and will continue to support clean energy But all that coal money can, and has, bought much of Ohio’s legislature. The utility companies gave more than $1.3 million to legislators (PDF) from 2008-2013, and they expect something for their investment.

We need to keep the heat on our elected representatives in Columbus as they finish debate on SB 310. Otherwise, we risk letting their fossil fuel benefactors keep turning the heat up on our planet.

Update (4/30/2014 9:16am): Tom Knox provided me with the full press release and set of survey results. Taken in full, the poll seems a bit more credible than the one question would have it seem out of context. That said, there are still several methodological issues with it.

In the first question, where 56% of Ohioans seem to come out against SB 221, the question does not actually ask whether respondents oppose the law on its merits; it simply asks if they agree that “the government should mandate reductions in
electricity use by Ohio’s residential and businesses users.” That is exactly the type of wording that garners opposition to policies in the abstract, such as Obamacare.

Secondly, the poll continually asserts that Ohioans will pay more on their electricity bills – $45 this year – to meet the energy efficiency mandates. Nowhere does it mention the fact that customers can opt into rebate programs financed by these surcharges, nor does it mention the fact that energy efficiency programs have saved Ohio ratepayers more than $2 for every $1 invested, according to the electric utilities themselves. Moreover, Ohioans have already indicated (PDF), in multiple polls, that they are willing to pay more for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Fortunately, they don’t have to.

Thirdly, the poll asks two questions about whether or not ratepayers should have the option to opt out of paying the costs of the clean energy mandates. This is exactly the type of question that sounds wonderful in theory, but the Devil is in the details. Allowing ratepayers to opt out of paying into these programs would render them completely ineffective; it would be a de facto repeal in all but the name.

Enabling customers to take advantage of utility rebate programs without paying into them would allow them to become free riders, who would enjoy the benefits of energy efficiency (e.g. lower wholesale electricity costs) without having to bear any of the costs. It’s interesting how conservatives suddenly support subsidies and “picking winners and losers” when the winners are their industry friends. A voluntary opt-out provision would simply drive up the costs of compliance to the point where the programs were completely suspended. We know that the members of “Ohioans for Sustainable Jobs” would like to see SB 221 repealed in its entirety. But because that would never fly – see SB 58 – they want to hide behind semantics and do it under the cover of night instead.

I will continue to say this over and over and over and over again: Existing Ohio law requires all energy efficiency programs to save ratepayers more than they cost. If they do not pass this total resource cost test – which they have, by the way – the Public Utilities Commission is legally obligated to reject them.

The entire foundation of this poll is based on the phony premise that energy efficiency programs cost Ohioans more than they save. That’s completely unfounded, and, as a result, this poll is nothing more than a house of cards. The Supreme Court may claim that money equals speech, but it doesn’t enable you to buy your own facts.

GOP beware: Ohio overwhelmingly supports clean energy

ohio statehouse
ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Well, the Ohio GOP is at it again. After Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) failed to even get the support of his own caucus for SB 58, his bill to mangle Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, the GOP leadership has decided to pursue a new course – just letting FirstEnergy decide what to do.

On Friday, Senator Troy Balderson (R-Zainesville) introduced SB 310, a bill to immediately and indefinitely freeze the efficiency and renewables standards at 2014 levels, which would cap them at roughly one-tenth and one-fifth of the final numbers, respectively. The bill looks an awful lot like one that FirstEnergy tried to sneak through the lame-duck legislature under the cover of night in November 2012.

I won’t dive too deeply into the details of the bill or the parade of horribles it will unleash on Ohio, as it has been covered pretty effectively by other outlets; I want to focus on a different perspective, instead. Midwest Energy News has a thorough, useful primer, and the PD was actually ahead of the game by denouncing the bill as “misbegotten” and noting it would take Ohio backwards into the dark, coal-stained days of its past.

Plunderbund goes into great detail on the history and benefits of SB 221, the bill that established the state’s energy standards in 2008, and the likely consequences of SB 310 – higher energy bills, billions in lost economic activity, thousands of jobs foregone, air and water pollution, etc. As the post rightly notes,

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. The opponents of SB 221 are not looking out for the interests of Ohioans. They are simply defending the economic interests of the fossil fuel industry and electric utilities…

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 protect SB 221.

As the French say, précisément.

But as I said, I wanted to focus on a different angle to this story. Proponents of SB 221, including Senators Seitz and Faber, continue to claim that they are standing up for the interests of ordinary Ohioans, not just their utility company benefactors. Sen. Faber claimed this bill is “based on evidence and science,” while Sen. Seitz, who loves to call his opponents “enviro-socialist rent-seekers,” repeatedly argues that the existing standards “constitute a hidden electricity tax on consumers.”

One would assume that if the standards were truly nothing more than a hidden green tax to benefit a bunch of socialist treehuggers, ordinary Ohioans would be universally opposed to it and happy to call for its appeal. Not quite.

In a poll conducted during February 2013, Ohioans demonstrated their support for the state’s energy mandates. Almost 80% of respondents expressed support for existing policies to require that at least a portion of electricity be generated from clean energy sources, while 65% indicated that they specifically support increasing renewable energy generation as a replacement for coal and natural gas.

Last November, Small Business Majority surveyed Ohio’s small businesses to get their views on the subject. They found that 53% of the state’s small businesses support SB 221 in its current form, while just 43% stood opposed. Moreover, 65% of those surveyed said that renewable energy “can have economic benefits for small business owners, such as lowering utility bills and providing new business opportunities for entrepreneurs.” Ohio’s small businesses know that the mandates have helped drive the development of a vibrant clean energy sector in the state, which already employs more than 25,000 people.

But even more surprising were the results of a survey last July from the Yale Project on Climate Communications. While the main headlines included the fact that 70% of Ohioans believe climate change and occurring, and 49% believe it is manmade, there was some information buried in the report that is germane to this debate. According to the study,

A majority (59%) supports requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources—even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year. Comparatively few (35%) would oppose this policy.

Rather than fearing the potential economic impacts of SB 221, Ohioans have embraced them with open arms. That’s because they know that the benefits of the state’s energy mandates far exceed any potential costs. In the same survey, 43% of respondents felt that switching from fossil fuels to clean energy would increase employment and economic growth. And Ohioans want their leaders to act now. Majorities – 54% and 56%, respectively – want Governor Kasich and the state legislature to do more to address climate change, including ramp up clean energy generation.

So the Ohio GOP and their friends at the big utility companies can continue to delude themselves that writing love letters to coal-fired power plants is a winning campaign strategy. But if they sow these seeds of discontent this spring, they’re going to have to reap them in November.

Bill Seitz has sure changed his tune on Ohio’s Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard

sb 221 energy efficiency benchmarks

On May 1, 2008, then-Governor Ted Strickland signed Substitute Senate Bill 221 (SB 221), 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 (IOUs) reduce their energy consumption by 22.2% by 2025. This mandate is broken down into yearly increments – each utility is supposed to meet each annual goal on the path to the overall reduction. For 2013, IOUs must reduce the annual electricity consumption of their customers by 0.9%.

Annual energy efficiency benchmarks for Ohio's investor-owned utilities, as specified by SB221 (courtesy of Mark Rabkin).

Annual energy efficiency benchmarks for Ohio’s investor-owned utilities, as specified by SB221 (courtesy of Mark Rabkin).

The bill also required IOUs to generate at least 25% of their electricity from advanced energy sources by 2026. Of these “advanced energy sources,” at least half must come from true renewable energy sources, like wind and geothermal (the bill includes a 0.5% carve out for solar energy). The other half can come from alternative sources, including “clean coal” (carbon capture and sequestration) and, as of Fall 2011, combined heat and power.

To date, the bill has largely delivered on its promises. According to Environment Ohio, the standards have saved enough energy (negawatts) to power 267,000 houses for a year. Additionally, the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) has sparked the installation of enough solar and wind generation capacity to power 95,000 houses for a year. Furthermore, the bill has contributed to the growth the renewable energy industry in Ohio, making good on the promises of job creation from its proponents. In 2011, Ohio ranked 5th in the country for green jobs, with 137,143. This industry – which had the highest growth rate of any sector in the US economy from 2010-2011 – has contributed significantly to Ohio’s economic recovery. Green jobs account for 2.8% of Ohio’s total workforce, higher the national average (2.6%).

Despite the success of this legislation, the bill has come under attack recently by a group of conservative lawmakers and industry interests. As a part of its broader effort to fight renewable energy at the state level, ALEC has placed SB 221 squarely in its sights. Two conservative state senators – Sen. Kris Jordan and Bill Seitz – are leading this charge. This effort is also the latest assault on energy efficiency and renewable energy in Ohio from FirstEnergy, the electric utility whose incompetence brought you the 2003 East Coast blackout.*

FirstEnergy's failure to properly maintain its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Northwest Ohio led to the development of a football-sized hole in the reactor lid. According to a review, the reactor could have been 60 days away from a meltdown (courtesy of The Plain Dealer).

FirstEnergy’s failure to properly maintain its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Northwest Ohio led to the development of a football-sized hole in the reactor lid. According to a review, the reactor could have been 60 days away from a meltdown (courtesy of The Plain Dealer).

Last week, Sen. Seitz told the Wall Street Journal that that mandates in SB 221 reminded him of “Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan.” Setting aside the absurdity of this statement, it represents a remarkable shift for Seitz on the bill in just 4 years (he initially proposed to scrap the EERS & RPS entirely in 2011; that bill never made it out of committee). Seitz has conveniently failed to mention that he voted for SB 221 in 2008. In fact, the bill sailed through the Ohio State Senate unanimously. And it passed through the Ohio House by a 93-1 vote. During the debate on the bill, Seitz never offered any opposition to it on the record, nor did he try to amend it in any substantial way.

This is an awfully big change from a legislator who tried to paint himself as a reasonable moderate during the contentious debate over SB 5. Yet, I guess it’s not surprising from a man who has served on the Board of Directors for ALEC and has received nearly $63,000  in campaign contributions since 2000 from industries ALEC represents, including oil and gas.

 

*FirstEnergy has been pushing to kill SB 221, even as it promotes its own rebate programs for energy efficiency made possible by the legislation. Hillariously, as I was writing this post, I received an email from the company promoting their new round of rebates for energy efficient appliances.