Many Witnesses Testify During Senate Committee On Energy Standards

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In what could be the last Senate committee meeting before a vote, many witnesses lined up to testify both for and against a measure that would freeze Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable standards.

The standards were created by a law in 2008. It calls on utilities to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable and alternative sources by 2025. It also sets a benchmark of 22 percent energy savings by the same year.

Those for the freeze echoed previously mentioned talking points including the belief that the standards will drive up everyone’s electric bills over the years.

Opponents urged that a freeze, among other things, would drastically damage the alternative energy market. Dan Litchfield represents several wind farms in Ohio. He was questioned by Republican Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, who chairs the committee.

Seitz: “Why, why can’t you sell your power competitively with all the other forms of power? There’s nothing in [SB]310 that prohibits you from doing that is there?”

Litchfield agreed to a certain extent but added later that the current standards are helpful in encouraging investment in renewable energy.

“The law as written certainly encourages others – gives us more of a market to compete into – it certainly would increase the likelihood that projects go forward and the investments happen,” Litchfield said.

“It does more than encourage it – doesn’t it? It mandates it,” Seitz said.

“It doesn’t mandate that it buys from us – it mandates that there’s a market that we compete into,” Litchfield said.

Akron-based FirstEnergy has been vocal in calling for a change to the standards. The utility supported a bill last year that would have been a major overhaul to the benchmark policies and now stands as a proponent to the freeze. Doug Colafella, a spokesperson with the company, agrees that a freeze doesn’t mean utilities can’t seek out alternative energy sources independently.

“So the market has taken off," Colafella said. "The marketplace is providing the products and services that our customers are asking for. So the question becomes—do we continue to need mandates when customers are adopting these products with much enthusiasm?”

Through his questions to witnesses, Democratic Senator Eric Kearney of Cincinnati suggested he feels there’s an economic benefit to the standards and incentivized alternative energy use, and said he felt a different approach was needed.

“What is the middle way?" Kearney said. "What is the way to compromise? What balances out this new investment that we get—that we’re benefiting from—wind, solar, geothermal, all this other stuff—and the concerns of these people and everyone keeps telling me well either we shouldn’t compromise or there are no new ideas out there.”

Seitz replied to Kearney’s comments recognizing these standards as a complex issue, noting that the committee has been working on this for a year and a half.

The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association were major opponents to the last bill to overhaul the policies. Now both groups are joining forces to continue showing support for the standards but also calling on changes to the original law.

The groups say the utilities have too much power in certain cases and that must be reformed to protect consumers.

Some observers seem to think the bill could move out of committee in the next week or two.