Ohio Senate panel mulls alternative energy changes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Under the latest revisions to a closely watched Senate bill, Ohio's alternative energy targets would be put on hold for two years as a panel of legislators studies their impact.

The Senate Public Utilities Committee on Wednesday again backed off efforts to repeal the mandates, acknowledging they continue to draw broad criticism. Several earlier attempts at turning back the requirements altogether have failed.

The updated bill would allow the phase-in of the standards to continue as planned if lawmakers don't act on the 12-member study panel's recommendations at the end of two years. The panel would include six representatives and six senators, up to four from each chamber of a single political party.

Current law requires utilities to produce 12.5 percent of their energy from renewable sources and 12.5 percent from advanced sources by 2025. Under the latest bill, the targets would have to be met by 2027 to accommodate the 2-year pause.

The amended bill removes a requirement that half of renewable energy resources come from in-state facilities, requires utilities to disclose alternative energy costs to customers, allows customers to opt out of the requirements if they amount to 3 percent or more of their bills, and allows large industrial users pursuing their own energy efficiency measures to opt out of the requirement with the approval of state regulators.

Sen. Troy Balderson, the bill's sponsor, said majority Republicans still believe the "25 by '25" standard needs revisiting but are trying to address concerns. Opponents include environmentalists, manufacturers and alternative energy producers.

"Listen, we didn't want to get into a war here," Balderson said. "This is something we definitely need to address. Let's get as many people on board with the process as possible now."

Chairman Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, scheduled the committee to reconvene to debate the revised bill later Wednesday. A vote was uncertain.

Seitz said the decision to limit the commission to lawmakers was intended to address the many requests he received to seat various interest groups on the study panel.

"As I told ranking minority member (Sen. Eric) Kearney yesterday, if we accommodated everybody who wanted to be on this study commission with their requests, we would have a body as large as the United Nations and just about as useless."

Though they're at the heart of the debate, Ohio power companies have not testified on the bill.

Balderson said lawmakers "know where utilities stand" and are more concerned about the impact of the mandates on the electric bills of average ratepayers.

Ohio's utility ratepayer watchdog has testified in favor of continuing to phase in the alternative energy mandates while the matter is studied. Consumers' Counsel Bruce Weston has also advocated restricting utilities to collecting shared savings from energy efficiency mandates that exceed benchmarks.

He wants the study committee's scope to be broadened to include the structure of Ohio's rate-making system, which he says is tilted toward favoring utilities over consumers.