There’s nothing moderate or reasonable about Senate Bill 310

john kasich
john kasich

Governor John Kasich will ultimately decide the fate of Ohio’s clean energy future. God help us all (courtesy of the Toledo Blade).

Ever since Senator Troy Balderson (R-Zainesville) first introduced SB 310 back in March, the bill’s proponents have continually tried to paint themselves as unbiased, reasonable actors who are just working to defend the best interests of Ohio’s consumers.

They routinely emphasize the supposed uncertainty around the effects of the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards and point to an Energy Mandates Study Committee, which will analyze the standards during the two-year freeze and propose potential changes, as proof that they are reasonable actors who are standing up for ratepayers.

Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) told the Columbus Dispatch “What we want to do as a legislature is put procedures in place that are based on evidence and science.” He added, “We’ve spent $1.1 billion since 2009 on energy efficiency. … I’m not quite sure what we’ve gotten out of it.” The Study Committee is supposedly intended to solve this (non) issue.

Senator Frank LaRose (R-Akron) went so far as to claim that his work to “moderate” the bill provided that he was a true statesman.

And Governor John Kasich, who will ultimately decide whether Ohio continues to move forward or dives headlong into its coal-fired past, released a joint statement with Sen. Faber that read, “By temporarily holding at our current level while problems are ironed out, we keep the progress we’ve made, ensure we steadily grow new energy sources and preserve affordable energy prices for both businesses and consumers.”

So, given the centrality of this Study Committee to the GOP’s claims that they acting reasonably and in the best interest of Ohioans, you would think it would include experts on the issue and take a sober, neutral approach to its task. Yeah, not quite.

Here’s the actual text that creates the Energy Mandates Study Committee in SB 310 (emphasis is mine):

Section 3. It is the intent of the General Assembly to ensure that customers in Ohio have access to affordable energy. It is the intent of the General Assembly to incorporate as many forms of inexpensive, reliable energy sources in the state of Ohio as possible. It is also the intent of the General Assembly to get a better understanding of how energy mandates impact jobs and the economy in Ohio and to minimize government mandates. Because the energy mandates in current law may be unrealistic and unattainable, it is the intent of the General Assembly to review all energy resources as part of its efforts to address energy pricing issues.

Therefore, it is the intent of the General Assembly to enact legislation in the future, after taking into account the recommendations of the Energy Mandates Study Committee, that will reduce the mandates in sections 4928.64 and 4928.66 of the Revised Code and provide greater transparency to electric customers on the costs of future energy mandates, if there are to be any.

Setting aside the fact that the bill’s authors clearly don’t understand how to use the word “impact” correctly, the intent of this section is quite clear. The Ohio GOP wants us to believe they just plan to “study” the state’s clean energy standards to see if they can decipher their effects and, if necessary, make changes. But, as you can see, the writing is already on the wall.

SB 310 predetermines the outcome of the Study Committee, and it inevitably guarantees that the standards will be watered down heavily during the two-year freeze, if not killed entirely. The bill calls them “unrealistic and unattainable” and lays out the GOP’s intention to “minimize government mandates” and “reduce” them going forward. The goal is blatantly transparent.

We don’t need to continue spending hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on frivolous studies from partisan lawmakers. The evidence that Ohio’s clean energy standards are benefiting Ohioans is overwhelming. Researchers at Ohio State say so. The Public Utilities Commission says so. Hell, even the utilities say so!

There’s nothing fair or reasonable about SB 310, no matter how much its proponents bloviate. As Terry Smith said so well in Sunday’s edition of The Athens News,

Anyone familiar with the arguments of climate-change deniers will see some of their rhetorical flourishes in Balderson’s vague references to gimmicks and slogans gussied up with a gratuitous fealty to science. That’s their perverse way of casting doubt on the overwhelming global scientific consensus that climate change is happening now, is getting worse, and is mainly caused by human-kind’s burning of fossil fuels.

Plus, as critics of S.B. 310 have pointed out and the utilities themselves have admitted, money spent on energy-efficiency standards will recoup twice as much in savings.

If Ohio wants to continue sliding backward into the darkness, while its elected representatives happily collect rent from the fossil-fuel and electric utility industries, and their allies in the dark world of Koch, it makes perfect sense to double down on coal- and gas-fired electric power and flea-market-level severance taxes for oil and gas.

You almost wish the GOP leadership had the guts to come out and admit their true intentions. But they know that, if they did, Ohioans would revolt. So they hide behind their false facades of reasonableness and rationality so they can keep the money flowing from the fossil fuel industry. It’s worked up to this point, but you can only stem the tide of history for so long.

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.

Ohio lawmaker compares clean energy to the Bataan death march

Senator Bill Seitz
Senator Bill Seitz

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

When the Ohio GOP leadership introduced SB 310 last month, they intentionally tried to sideline Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) from the process. We know that Sen. Seitz has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth. He has previously likened the clean energy standards to “Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan,” and he routinely labels his opponents as “enviro-socialist rent-seekers.” But this time he outdid even himself.

Last Wednesday, April 9, Sen. Seitz turned a Senate Public Utilities Committee hearing on SB 310 into a three-ring circus. First, during the middle of testimony from Aaron Jewell, a US Army veteran who fought in Iraq, Sen. Seitz reportedly got up, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and walked out of the room to take a smoke break.

He came back into the session halfway through the testimony of Dan Sawmiller, a Senior Campaign Representative for the Ohio Beyond Coal Campaign with the Sierra Club. Mr. Sawmiller also served with the Ohio National Guard from 2000-2008, during which time he worked as a combat engineer in Iraq.

Mr. Sawmiller served with 485 other guardsmen and women to clear some of the most dangerous parts of Baghdad of improvised explosive devices, in order to make way for the movement of additional troops and supplies. At least one of his fellow servicemen did not make it home.

During his testimony, he detailed the work he did in Iraq. “I explained how my combat experiences drove my passion to work on energy efficiency and national security issues,” he said. “This drove me to work with the Sierra Club.”

But rather than showing respect and gratitude for his service and simply debating the facts of the clean energy law, Mr. Sawmiller explained that Sen. Seitz made outlandish comments that are offensive to those who have served in our military.

“The Senator referred to the current law as being on the Bataan death march for clean energy,'” he explained. “The more I think about what was said, the more offended I get as a combat veteran.”

Let that sink in for a minute. According to an elected representative of the people of Ohio, a policy that has lowered electricity bills, stimulated economic growth, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and helped spark a clean energy sector that employs more than 25,000 people is on par with an internationally recognized war crime that killed 10,000 American and Filipino soldiers. Not only is such a statement utterly absurd, it insults the memory of the men who died (and those who survived) either on that march from Bataan or in the nightmarish prison camps that followed.

Did I mention that April 9 marked the 72nd anniversary of the surrender at the Bataan Peninsula and the first day of this horrific six-day march.

While Sen. Seitz may dismiss the connection, there is a reason why the United States military has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into renewable energy and energy efficiency – it saves money and, more importantly, lives.

Fossil fuel boosters love to claim that hydraulic fracturing will allow the US to drill its way to energy independence. But, as Brad Plumer explains,

Even if, one day, the United States produces enough oil to satisfy its own needs, it still won’t be entirely “independent” from the rest of the world. That is, the US economy will still be vulnerable to supply shortages or turmoil in the Middle East (for instance). There’s a reason for that. Oil is relatively easy to trade on the global markets.

Because oil is fungible international commodity, the US military will continue to maintain a vital interest in it. In a 2010 article, Roger J. Stern estimated that the US spent at least $6.8 trillion to secure oil reserves from 1976-2007. He calculated that the military costs of securing oil supplies from the Persian Gulf “exceeds the value of Gulf petroleum exports in all years except 1990 and the value of US petroleum imports from the region by roughly an order of magnitude.”

In other words, the US government is spending substantially more money to secure Middle Eastern oil reserves than the oil itself is worth. Stern concluded that, rather than trying to increase the supply of oil, we should curb demand by investing in energy efficiency, as this strategy “would address the core problem.”

Our reliance on fossil fuels has a direct impact upon the performance and flexibility of the armed forces. At least 70% of all tonnage on the battlefield is fuel, leaving the military highly vulnerable to energy market volatility. According to the Department of Defense, the military spent $13.2 billion on fuel for its operations in 2010. Due to the difficulty of delivering fuel to forward operating bases, fuel costs can often exceed $400 per gallon.

This dependence on fossil fuels also creates operational challenges. Infantry soldiers in Afghanistan carry 26 pounds of batteries on missions to power their equipment. This weight hinders their mobility and increases the physical strain on their bodies. That’s why Tremont Electric, a Cleveland-based clean energy company, is working with military contractors to integrate their kinetic energy device, the nPower Peg, into body armor.

And just as Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach, today’s military runs on its fuel and water convoys. These convoys are highly vulnerable, however, and became a favorite target for militants in Afghanistan and Iraq. The DoD reports that at least 3,000 US soldiers and military contractors were wounded or killed in raids on such convoys from 2003-2007. This breaks down to roughly one casualty for every 24 convoy trips.

Veterans like Dan Sawmiller and Aaron Jewell are well aware of this intimate connection between energy security and national security, as they saw it every day on the streets of Baghdad. But Sen. Seitz has chosen to demean their service and ignore their voices, because he serves the interests of ALEC and its funders in the fossil fuel industry.

“Clean energy has proven to be a great deal for Ohio’s homeowners and businesses,” Mr. Sawmiller said. In a letter sent yesterday to Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina), he called on the GOP leadership “to demand respect for the sacrifices that Ohio’s soldiers have made for generations” asking for a more dignified way to debate legislation.

If you are also tired of the Bill Seitz’s continued insults and bloviating, take a stand. Call Sen. Seitz’s office at (614) 466-8068 or send him an email demanding that he apologize to our veterans and stop his mindless attacks on Ohio’s clean energy standards.

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.