John Kasich will sign Senate Bill 310, the two-year freeze on the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards. After House approval and Senate concurrence on Wednesday, the governor’s spokesman argued that it is “naive to think that government could create that system perfectly the first time and never have to check back to see if everything’s OK.” The argument against the legislation wasn’t that a review was unnecessary, or that the standards needed no adjustment. Rather, the concern involves the process lawmakers have approved.
The governor should be disappointed, not pleased, as his spokesman indicated, that the state probably “came down in the right spot.” If the governor deserves much credit for preventing a likely end to the standards, he shouldn’t be naïve about what his fellow Republicans in the legislature intend. They tipped their hand, including in the measure such items as counting rules for energy efficiency that allow for easy compliance, contrary to the intent of the standards.
A veto from the governor would likely have helped an alternative approach, a compromise proposed by a coalition of business, environmental and consumer groups that would have set a one-year freeze with the deck less stacked for the study component. This option would have meant less uncertainty for investors in efficiency and renewable energy, two areas of the state economy the governor has touted for their promise of innovation and jobs.
Unfortunately, the alternative compromise ran into a brick wall in the House Public Utilities Committee, as the leadership raced to a conclusion. Even some Republicans objected. State Rep. Mike Duffey noted: “I don’t think half the committee knows what’s in this bill at this point given the number of amendments that have been flying by.” He described the legislation as “one of the worst bills I’ve ever seen.”
To be sure, legislators have been discussing for more than a year a freeze in the standards. Yet this particular version just surfaced, the complexity and implications calling for more care.
Proponents of Senate Bill 310 have warned repeatedly about the threat of rising energy costs, even mandating that the monthly bills to consumers identify the expense of the standards. What they push aside are the real savings, reported and projected for the near term, and good reason for keeping the standards intact while proceeding with an evaluation about how to improve them.
The hard reality is, to deal with the challenge of climate change, energy prices must climb, as part of curbing energy use. That is why economists and other analysts talk about the need for a carbon tax or similar mechanism. In that way, energy efficiency especially makes sense. Its pursuit not only is a vehicle for new technologies, it helps consumers counter rising costs by using less energy. Now, regrettably, Ohio is the first state to take a step back on this front.