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Alternative energy measure could put damper on local wind energy projects

Legislation that moved in the Ohio Senate this week could have a potential impact on EverPower Wind Holdings’ plans to develop local projects.

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CLICK HERE to read S.B. 310

“Obviously, this is something we are watching very closely,” EverPower Chief of Permitting and Public Policy Michael Speerschneider said. “We are very concerned any time the Senate or Legislature changes the (Alternative Energy Program).”

The Senate, working into the early morning hours Thursday, approved a measure that changes the statewide alternative energy picture.

A law that was passed in 2007 required Ohio energy suppliers to buy electric from renewable or advanced energy sources in increasing increments until the total reaches 25 percent in 2025.

The plan passed this week, however, would freeze that timetable at current levels for two years or until the Legislature acts on recommendations of a 13-member committee.

“It’s disruptive certainly,” Mr. Speerschneider said. “We’re a little dumbfounded that it passed nearly unanimously several years ago and sent a message to the industry that Ohio was ready to move full-steam ahead.

“In total, wind developers have invested over $1 billion in this state. Now this bill comes along and tells the industry, ‘Sorry, we were just kidding; we don’t want you doing business in this state.’”

EverPower has wind developments pending construction in Hardin, Logan and Champaign counties and the company official said a large part of their development hinges on finding buyers.

“This doesn’t make it impossible to build if we can find appropriate buyers, but it certainly doesn’t make it any easier,” he said.

While it displeases alternative energy producers, environmentalists, manufacturers and citizen groups like the local Fight the Wind organization approve of the Senate’s decision.

“We are pleased with Senate Bill 310 and its progress through the gauntlet of political barriers to its passage,” Tom Stacy of Fight the Wind wrote in an email.

“But this bill is not the end-all for wind or any other renewables. It doesn’t prohibit anything. It just relaxes the rate at which the government is forcing the contrived market for intermittent, undependable, low value sources like wind to grow.

The decision, he said, shows wind developers’ over-reliance on government regulations in their business plans.

“EverPower’s admission that SB310 progress puts their Ohio projects at a standstill is case in point to the reality that wind electricity is not sustainable, not affordable and not a good enough mousetrap to capture market share without mandates — even with all the subsidies they receive otherwise,” Mr. Stacy wrote.

In discussions this week, Senate Public Utilities Committee Chairman Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said the decision to limit the study commission to lawmakers was intended to address the many requests he received to seat various interest groups on the study panel.

“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.

Sen. Troy Balderson, the bill’s sponsor, 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

AP Q&A: New energy bill delays Ohio green targets 2 years

By JULIE CARR SMYTH
AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS — A proposal headed to the Ohio House freezes state-set targets for the amount of energy that utilities must produce from renewable sources such as solar and wind, but stops short of repealing the targets permanently.

The closely watched bill cleared the Ohio Senate just after 1 a.m. Thursday, about 15 hours after a compromise was struck. Lawmakers who initially sought to permanently freeze phasing in the 7-year-old standards backed off Wednesday.

The Republican-led Senate worked with Gov. John Kasich on an alternative that pauses progress on the targets for two years as a legislative committee looks at the issue.

Public Utilities Chairman Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, noted that amendments of both Republicans and Democrats were accepted in the final version.

State Sen. Eric Kearney, the committee’s ranking Democrat, criticized the process. He said the final version of the bill was subject to no testimony, and lawmakers were pressed to read and analyze its contents before a vote.

Questions and answers on the bill as it stands:

Q: What are the targets?

A: Under a 2008 law, Ohio utilities were required to produce 12.5 percent of energy from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and captured heat, and 12.5 percent from advanced sources, such as clean coal, by 2025. The law also required companies to help customers reduce electricity use 22 percent by 2025.

Q: What happens to the targets under the Senate bill?

A: Targets for advanced energy are eliminated. Targets for renewable energy are frozen for 2015 and 2016 and a condition is eliminated that required at least half of those resources to come from Ohio. The benchmarks will resume as scheduled in 2017 unless lawmakers act on a new study commission’s recommendations before then. The new date for clean energy and efficiency targets to be met is 2027.

Q: What’s the makeup of the study commission?

A: 13 members: six from the Ohio House and six from the state Senate, including no more than four of the same political party from either chamber, and the chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Q: Are lawmakers required to accept the commission’s recommendations?

A: No. The bill states that it is the intent of the Legislature in the future to pass legislation reducing targets for energy efficiency, use of renewable energy resources and for reduced peak demand at power plants.

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