Created on Tuesday, 29 January 2013 Written by JULIE CARR SMYTH,AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A state utility regulator who helped nix plans for a proposed Ohio solar farm and has used questioned global warming and alternative energy has ties to an influential conservative group behind model legislation to repeal states' renewable energy requirements.
Todd Snitchler, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, was a keynote speaker at the American Legislative Exchange Council's April 2011 spring task force meeting. The event was held the month after he stepped down as a Republican state representative from Uniontown to accept Gov. John Kasich's appointment to the commission.
It is unclear whether Snitchler's views helped influence the model bill, known as the Electricity Freedom Act, which the council identified as a policy priority in October. Todd Wynn, who leads the council's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, said he does not know Snitchler and has not worked with him in his 18 months in his post.
Jason Gilham, a spokesman for the utilities commission, said Snitchler was a keynote speaker at the April meeting. Holly Karg, the commission's public affairs director, added, "He was not being lobbied at those events; he was speaking at them."
Snitchler's 2011 financial disclosure form indicates he also attended a summit of the legislative council in Phoenix that December. The commission reimbursed him for about $175 in meal expenses for the two 2011 meetings. He reported no travel costs.
The commission 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.
The American Legislative Exchange Council "has always been opposed to energy mandates, but in 2012 we picked up the debates on renewable energy targets specifically," Wynn said. He noted that repeal of Ohio's renewable targets has been proposed before, and said it wouldn't surprise him if it would be proposed again this session.
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 went against the advice of commission staff. The power company, environmental advocates and Statehouse Democrats all said the decision was misguided.
In its wake, Snitchler's steady criticism of solar, wind and renewable energy on Twitter came to light. 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.
"The guy is a right-wing ideologue and he doesn't belong in a regulatory body that's supposed to be impartial and protect the consumers, which he's not doing," said Henry Eckhart, a commissioner in the 1970s who now represents utility consumers. "This is just one of a few things that have been objectionable."
Ashley Brown, another former commissioner who now directs the Harvard Electricity Policy Group, said that he hasn't closely followed Snitchler but that 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. "Everyone has a right to advocate what they want, but 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."
Snitchler's 2011 appearances at legislative council events continued a pattern of regular attendance at the group's meetings. At them, lawmakers may be lavishly entertained by corporate sponsors without publicly reporting many of the meals, cigars, drinks and other perks they receive.
Ohio House emails list Snitchler as a council member and an attendee at another four of its events in 2009 and 2010, when he was a state representative. The documents 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 name or attendance information of members.
As a lawmaker, campaign finance reports show, Snitchler accepted more than $25,000 in contributions from corporations, political action committees and associations involved in the electricity, natural gas, telephone and transportation sectors he now regulates. That included $9,500 from FirstEnergy Corp. and $1,000 from AEP.
After joining the Public Utilities Commission, Snitchler was prohibited from taking gifts of any kind from the utilities he regulates.
Karg said Snitchler dropped his membership in the legislative council after leaving the House, but a House spokesman said Snitchler's legislative membership for the 2011-2012 legislative session was never revoked. It remained in effect through December.
Karg said Snitchler's 2012 financial disclosure form, which hasn't yet come due, will show no further legislative council meetings.