Critics of a bill to freeze energy standards say it threatens to dismantle the efficiency industry in Ohio. Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow takes an inside look at what it means to run an energy efficiency program, and why some legislators believe those companies that do will still be successful.
The House is holding hearings on a bill that would freeze Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable standards. These are benchmarks and policies requiring utilities to find ways of cutting back on energy use.
Advanced energy companies say these standards play a vital role in developing Ohio’s emerging efficiency industry. The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, which lobbies for companies in the energy efficiency business, hosted an expo at the Statehouse to show off some of those operations.
Rich Marshall was there to represent JACO Environmental, a company that picks up and recycles old appliances such as refrigerators and freezers. He says this simple step leads to huge savings for consumers and the utilities.
“We provide an avenue for the environmentally responsible disposal of large appliances, which there’s not a really good avenue for doing that," Marshall said. "Plus, utility companies, they’d be building more plants to meet the need rather than save the energy.”
Other companies focus on the educational components of energy efficiency, like Dropoly.com. Dropoly is an online game requires the player to make decisions that could lead to energy savings. As Leib Lurie explained, his game helps teach middle schoolers about sustainability in a fun way.
"By tying in Common Core standards with educational programs from junior high schools, we found that we can get kids engaged in a game -- Dropoly -- that’s fun, that’s exciting, that has a leaderboard, that has challenges, that has little things they can do at home every day to save money," Lurie said.
Gary Swanson with Energy Management Solutions runs a slightly more comprehensive operation. His company works with large companies to conduct energy audits and connect them with rebates provided through the standards. Swanson claimed a freeze would essentially kill this program.
"A lot of the companies that are using the program now and are planning to use it are going to be upset with the program, because they won’t know if it’s going to be around for future projects," Swanson said. "Also all the people who’ve been around for the past five years to really build this environment, educate people, get the system working, aren’t going to sit around for two years and do nothing. They’re going to go away, go to others states and do other work.”
Republican Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati has been the driving force behind a change to the standards. One of his main arguments is that, if these programs really are a smart investment for companies and residents, they don’t need mandates or support from the state.
“People will buy it if it’s competitive," Seitz said. "And there should not be artificial hurdles to buying it at the lowest possible cost, which is what I’ve said for a year-and-a-half. This is not about utilities -- they’ll do whatever we tell them to do as long as they get it back from the ratepayer. This bill is about customers and customers’ rates.”
Swanson stands by the effectiveness of these companies and says it’s about speeding up the rate of return.
“Generally the payback for a large company, they’ll want to see an investment with a one to two year payback," Swanson said. "Anything above that they’re not going to want to do themselves. Corporate won’t allow it. So what the rebates and the incentives do is they help buy down those costs for the next-tier energy efficiency projects. They help buy that down to a lower level that they can then afford.”
The House speaker hopes to get the energy standards freeze out of his chamber by mid-June. If no changes are made, then the bill goes straight to the governor’s desk.