FirstEnergy has been a vocal advocate for changes to the state’s energy efficiency policies with many saying the large utility is the driving force behind the proposed overhaul. Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow takes a closer look at why the company believes this change is needed.
In the battle over the state’s energy-efficiency policies, several groups have adamantly voiced their opposition to any changes. But one major utility has been a leading supporter of the revisions. FirstEnergy believes the policy overhaul that’s currently in the Senate makes a handful of modifications that are vital to avoiding higher costs and electric bills down the road.
Doug Colafella is a spokesperson for the Akron-based company. He says the bill places spending limits to cap just how much utilities can charge customers. It also adds a provision for large industrial companies to opt out of state programs if that company decides to create its own efficiency plan.
Another top provision, according to Colafella, is a change to the way the state counts efficiency. He said this will provide a more accurate look at the strides companies are making, such as installing LED lights. This is one reason why FirstEnergy disputes claims that Senate Bill 58 would impair Ohio’s benchmarks.
“We don’t agree that it weakens the standards -- we believe it just makes good economic sense to make these changes," Colafella said. "And if a customer still wants to take part in these programs, the energy-saving programs will still be there, and the targets are going to remain in place as well. So we feel that these are good, fundamental changes.”
Those targets were passed nearly unanimously by the legislature in 2008, and some say the state should give the policies more time to develop.
But Colafella said it’s important for the General Assembly to revisit the law because the energy landscape has evolved in the past five years.
“Things were much different," he said. "Electric prices were trending much higher. There was concern that we wouldn’t have...as many options in the future to generate electricity. This is before we knew we had shale gas. These modifications are in step with where we are as an economy today.”
According to Colafella, those electric prices that were trending higher ultimately remained flat, but the mandates are the factors that increased those costs.
While customers may not notice a huge difference in their bill right now, Colafella said they will if these current policies stay in place.
“We’re seeing how the price tag of these mandates is increasing over time," he said. "We’re the ones sending out the bills to everyone, and as that surcharge increases to pay for these mandates, it’s something that we’ve been concerned about.”
FirstEnergy isn’t shy about its role in pushing for these policy changes. But Colafella says support is growing every day, with the other three major utilities in the state now on board with the bill.
Its sponsor, Republican Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati says the measure is not a repeal of the standards created in 2008.
Environmental and consumer groups have opposed the bill, saying it will halt the momentum on renewable energy projects and have a long-term result of higher bills for ratepayers.
Colafella and FirstEnergy have a different view. If the bill were passed, he says the changes wouldn’t have an adverse effect on environmental protection. He adds that businesses don’t need mandates to make environmentally friendly decisions anymore.
"You can’t go out today and buy an inefficient refrigerator," Colafella said. "You can’t buy inefficient lighting for a large commercial or industrial facility. So we see energy efficiency products and services continuing to roll out. And as the demand for energy efficient products is there, suppliers and manufacturers -- they’re going to be there to meet that need.”