Two years ago, state lawmakers reaffirmed the commitment they made in 2008 to advance energy efficiency and alternative sources of energy. The legislation (Senate Bill 315) incorporated the thinking of Gov. John Kasich, who earlier held an energy summit to set a direction for the state. Now that commitment faces a renewed attack, opponents gaining traction in the Ohio Senate. On Friday, the Republican majority unveiled a proposal that would suspend indefinitely progress in meeting the mandated targets into the next decade.
Senate leaders want to move quickly, even send a bill to the governor before the summer recess.
The pursuit of such a freeze began in the latter part of 2012, FirstEnergy leading the way. The effort sputtered. State Sen. William Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, then spent much of last year pushing legislation that would undermine deeply the efficiency and alternative energy standards. If there is room for adjustment and improvement, Seitz and allies went way too far. In the end, thankfully, they lacked support to move the bill out of committee.
A compromise still could be achieved. The Ohio Manufacturers Association has put forward practical ideas for making a start.
Unfortunately, Keith Faber, the Senate president, now wants to take an extreme step. The moratorium proposal calls for the creation of an “Energy Mandates Study Committee,” with the task of recommending possible changes by the end of 2015. Yet the political reality appears all too clear: Once the mandates are suspended, they are not likely to be restored, in their current or a new form.
Ideally, the governor would step forward to defend his energy strategy, pointing to a reasonable middle ground, say, where the concerns of large companies with their own energy efficiency plans could be addressed. What the governor and others rightly have understood is that the state benefits overall from the mandates.
The mandates call for 25 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable and advanced energy sources by 2025 and at the same time for electricity demand to decline 22 percent due to efficiency steps. The renewable energy standards have sparked economic activity in wind and solar, each becoming more competitive. Energy efficiency rates as one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce electricity use. It spurs innovation, notably, building on manufacturing strengths while helping address the challenge of climate change.
Opponents of the mandates highlight the monthly expense added to consumer bills for efficiency programs. In response, the manufacturers association cites calculations showing the savings from improved efficiency will far exceed the costs through the end of the decade. More, the law requires that the aggregate savings outpace the expense.
The objective shouldn’t be to suspend such efforts. Lawmakers should look to make improvements while preserving goals that help the state navigate a difficult economic transition.