Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS: A top state utility regulator who opposed plans for an Ohio solar farm and openly questioned global warming maintained ties with an influential conservative group that supports repealing states’ renewable energy requirements.
Regulators on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio are expected to sit as judges, making impartial decisions on rate matters that affect the public.
However, Todd Snitchler, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, was a keynote speaker at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s task force meeting in April 2011. ALEC is a conservative advocacy group that supports small government, minimal regulation and free enterprise.
Snitchler’s state ethics filings show he attended another meeting of the council in December, nearly a year after leaving the legislature to accept Gov. John Kasich’s appointment to the commission.
The commission that Snitchler leads is overseeing implementation of Ohio’s “25-by-25” standard, which requires power companies to get 25 percent of their electricity from alternative and advanced sources by 2025. Such standards are targeted for repeal under the legislative council’s model bill.
Holly Karg, the commission’s public affairs director, said energy lobbyists attend events of the exchange council, but Snitchler was above the fray.
“He was not being lobbied at those events; he was speaking at them,” she said.
His financial disclosure form indicates the commission reimbursed Snitchler for about $175 in meal expenses for the two 2011 meetings. He reported no travel costs.
Snitchler this month joined a 3-1 majority of the Public Utilities Commission in rejecting American Electric Power Co.’s proposal to incorporate power from the Turning Point Solar project into its renewable energy portfolio. The vote — against the advice of commission staff — was criticized as misguided by the power company, environmental advocates and Statehouse Democrats.
In its wake, Snitchler’s steady criticism of solar, wind and renewable energy on Twitter over the previous year came to light. Observers said his posts broke with a tradition of public neutrality among utility commissioners on issues they regulate.
Snitchler also posted such items as an article referring to “the myth of Global Warming” and a reference to “the ‘green’ religion” taking over Christianity.
Ashley Brown, another former commissioner who now directs the Harvard Electricity Policy Group, said checking ideology at the door is one of the first things he teaches at new-regulator trainings.
“You’re never going to remove politics from electricity, but the reason we have regulators is to reduce the politicization of the sector,” Brown said. “Part of a regulator’s mission is to have filters on what ideologues say, to make deliberative, thoughtful decisions that are fact-based and consistent with the law.”
Public records showing Snitchler’s relationship with ALEC were obtained by ProgressOhio, a liberal policy group, through a public-records request and provided to the Associated Press. A spokeswoman for the legislative council said the organization does not confirm the names or attendance records of members.