Governor's Summit Considers Legislation To Erase Energy Resources Mandate

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The schedule included panels about electricity, coal, wind and solar power, alternative transportation fuels, and natural gas and oil in the Marcelllus and Utica shale in Ohio. But on the stage and off, much of the talk of the conference was about a proposed bill that could wipe out the state mandates that utilities get 25% of their power from renewable energy sources by 2025 – half of that coming from Ohio sources. That law was nearly unanimously approved by lawmakers from both parties in 2008.

Republican Gov. John Kasich brought up the mandates in his opening remarks. “Oh, you know, they’re all trying to get me to say, ‘we don’t need renewables here – of course we need renewables. Of course we need solar and of course we need wind. We have opportunities for it. But we’ve got to be realistic about it.”

Kasich said he’s checking into how much of the state’s vehicle fleet can be run on compressed natural gas, and suggested that the state might someday partner with companies that could build the cars and the fueling stations. But he didn’t address whether the state should continue with the mandates.

His main jobs advisor, JobsOhio president Mark Kvamme, says he’s still trying to form his opinion. “I’m focused on one thing and one thing only – job creation. So what’s the best way to attract the best companies to Ohio."

[Kasler: And may the best way be to eliminate those mandates and those requirements? Kvamme: I can’t answer that yet. What I want to do is sit down and work with the powers that be to figure that out.]

Kvamme says businesses are looking for predictability. Nolan Moser with the Ohio Environmental Council says the state comes a lot closer to providing predictability with mandates than without them. “Right now we are entirely reliant on coal. If prices in the coal energy increase, as they have – new coal generation is incredibly expensive right now – Ohio is, has really bet on one horse. And energy diversification, expanding our resources, adding natural gas, adding renewable energy, means we are less sensitive to price spikes in coal.”

And Moser adds that renewable energy and energy efficiency were the only two real areas of economic growth in Ohio during the recession. One of those companies that saw growth was Tipping Point Renewable Energy in suburban Columbus.

CEO Eric Zimmer says erasing the mandates now would be a job killer. “What we need is stability. And so, bills that are thrown out willy-nilly like this that question that really put a freeze on that market. We have had challenges with our investors who we’ve been working on for close to a year now saying, ‘what’s with this bill?’ If Senate Bill 221, the renewable portion was repealed, it would absolutely kill jobs in Ohio. It would drive away a lot of jobs.”

But utility companies say that the mandates raise the cost of doing business. And they say if they were eliminated, the market would drive demand and customers, not the state, can choose if they want renewable energy sources.

Rebecca Heimlich from Americans for Prosperity agrees, saying the negative effects of the mandates are hitting already. “My understanding of what’s going on in Ohio is there isn’t enough renewable energy or advanced energy at this point, and it’s causing our energy prices to skyrocket. I’m getting e-mails from across the state from people who are seeing this on their energy bills.”

Kvamme says the key is to strike a balance between environmental and business concerns. And right now there seems to be little pressure to erase the renewable energy standards. The bill hasn’t been assigned to a committee, and Speaker Bill Batchelder has said the House Republican caucus is not in favor of what he calls re-regulation.

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