Panel seeks to extend freeze on Ohio renewable energy targets

ohio state house elp

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Government requirements for the use of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy by Ohio power companies would be suspended indefinitely under recommendations released Wednesday by a legislative panel.

The Energy Mandates Study Committee's report cites legal uncertainty and a need for "greater clarity" surrounding proposed federal clean power rules among reasons for the recommendation. The suggestion drew swift criticism from environmental groups, alternative energy businesses, Democrats and Gov. John Kasich.

Committee chairman Troy Balderson, a Zanesville Republican, said the report represents a starting point for debate as legislation proposing changes to Ohio's mandates is drafted.

"Look, I know what the headline on the report's going to be. There's more to it than that," he said. "And there will continue to be more to it than that. Now we have to go through the legislative process."

The panel's additional recommendations include ultimately switching from mandates to an incentive system to encourage use of renewables and efforts toward energy efficiency; expediting the regulatory process for approving utilities' energy-efficiency plans; and ensuring advanced-energy projects receive maximum credit.

The panel was charged with reviewing an Ohio law requiring utilities to generate 25 percent of electricity from alternative and advanced sources by 2025 and to meet certain energy efficiency targets.

The committee was created as part of a compromise brokered by Kasich amid efforts to repeal the targets outright. The deal placed a two-year freeze on phasing in existing mandates while the issue was studied. If legislators fail to act, the law would resume as planned in 2017.

The administration signaled dissatisfaction with extending the freeze any further.

"A continued freeze of Ohio's energy standards is unacceptable and we stand willing to work with the Ohio General Assembly to craft a bill that supports a diverse mix of reliable, low-cost energy sources while preserving the gains we have made in the state's economy," Kasich spokesman Joe Andrews said.

Ohio is among states that have sued over the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, which sets targets for carbon dioxide emissions for existing power plants as a means of reducing emissions from 2005 levels by 32 percent by 2030. Kasich has written to President Barack Obama asking him to hold off on implementing the plan until questions are resolved by the courts.

"The US EPA, by promulgation of the proposed CPP, seeks to change the energy landscape significantly across the United States," the report states.

Senate President Keith Faber said lawmakers and the governor — who was represented in deliberations over the report — may have to "agree to disagree."

"I know their EPA director has gone and urged everybody to be cautious until we see the implementation of what the president's new proposals are," he said. "And so at this point, I'd like to hear their proposal if they think what we're putting forward is unacceptable."

Proponents argue that Ohio's targets were creating jobs and benefiting the environment before they were frozen, and that the state would continue to do so if allowed to proceed.

State Rep. Michael Stinziano, a Columbus Democrat who sat on the Republican-dominated study committee, said the report's recommendations ignore expert testimony by a number of witnesses "who attested to the positive impacts these standards had on the state until frozen."

Senate Democrats called on Kasich to fight for restoration of the mandates.

"Allowing the clean energy industry to prosper could result in better products, a healthier population, cheaper prices, and more jobs over time," they wrote.

Samantha Williams, attorney and energy policy advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Ohio's momentum as "a clean energy trailblazer" has stalled.

"Any policies that block progress to regain Ohio's leadership will only grow the mountain of missed opportunities and keep the state lagging behind its neighbors that are moving forward with clean energy to create jobs, boost their economy and protect public health," she said in a statement.

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