For more than a year, debate has swirled around the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards. Yet there is a difference between talk and actual, concrete proposals such as the “compromise” unveiled by Senate Republicans this week. The details deserve examination, especially in view of the complexities of the power industry. Keith Faber, the Senate president, and his allies cast such thinking aside. A day after releasing their rewrite of a proposed freeze on the standards, they hustled the legislation into a committee, with a floor vote expected to come quickly thereafter.
Worth emphasis is that FirstEnergy and other power companies pressing for the freeze have yet to testify before a committee to explain the need for their companies and customers. Thus, they have not submitted themselves to a process in which skeptical lawmakers have an opportunity to ask questions and probe their arguments.
That’s not to say that power companies haven’t pressed their case. They have dispatched teams to lobby. Curious is how Faber and company appear ready to act without hearing publicly from the primary advocates for the change.
The proposed “compromise” does represent an improvement over the original Senate Bill 310. It would not halt permanently the standards that require power companies to sell 25 percent of their electricity from renewable and advanced energy sources and reduce energy consumption 22 percent — all by 2025. Rather, it would set up a two-year freeze, the standards resuming in 2017 if lawmakers fail to enact substitute legislation.
The change responds to concerns raised by Gov. John Kasich, state Sen. Frank LaRose and others about the state retreating in its energy strategy, becoming the first state to do so.
A most sensible course would involve the state keeping the standards in place while a task force of experts assesses the energy landscape and makes recommendations. After all, the standards have been working well, spurring investment in energy alternatives, generating more overall in savings for consumers than added costs. Unfortunately, the “compromise” not only freezes the standards, it relies on lawmakers to make the assessment and put forward changes.
More, the legislation jumps the gun. Language tilts heavily against “unrealistic, unreliable and unaffordable energy sources.” If areas of agreement have emerged for making changes, such as easing the opt-out requirement for large industrial users, there is less consensus elsewhere. Yet the bill, for instance, would end the requirement that power companies buy half of their renewable energy from sources within the state.
In the rush to approve the “compromise,” the Senate leadership appears unwilling to accept that advocates of the standards extend beyond environmental groups to include many prominent businesses, including Honda and Owens Corning, plus new companies such as Echogen, eager to see Ohio seize the future. They deserve better than this hustle at the Statehouse.