Another Ohio renewable-energy freeze possible before Christmas, return to full-utility regulation delayed
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers are continuing their race to a showdown with Gov. John Kasich over renewable energy. He wants it. They want to delay state rules requiring it until he after he leaves office.
But lawmakers appear to have put off until early next year the even bigger question of whether to somehow put Ohio’s electric utility industry back under regulation, protecting old coal and nuclear power plants from having to compete with new and more efficient natural gas-fired plants.
Extending a 2014 freeze on state rules requiring power companies to provide renewable energy and use customer-paid dollars to offer energy efficiency programs will be the energy issue in the next few weeks.
Both Senate and House committees are planning to hear testimony this week for and against bills written by Republican leadership that would, in effect, extend for another three years the state’s freeze of rules requiring power companies to sell an annually increasing percentage of electricity generated by renewable technologies, such as wind and solar.
The proposed bills — Senate Bill 320 and House Bill 554 — don’t technically extend the freeze. In fact, the original rules approved back in 2008 would come back to life, annually increasing the percentage of renewable energy required, as well as annually increasing reductions in consumption due to efficiency.
But compliance would be voluntary until 2020, meaning power companies would not have to prove they are complying until they file their reports with the Public Utilities Commission in 2021. And by then, Kasich will no longer be governor.
Since the freeze was enacted in 2014, power companies have had to show that 2.5 percent of the power they provide has been generated with renewable technologies. By 2020, the percentage would have risen to 6.5 percent under the new legislation.
Records maintained by the PUCO and publicly available show that more that 8,000 wind and solar projects have been built and registered in Ohio and in adjacent states with a total generating capacity of 5,660 megawatts.
Opponents of the freeze extension point to those projects as evidence that Ohio utilities would have no problems meeting the growing standards over the next several years. Under the law, the power companies can buy either the electricity or the renewable energy credits (RECs) associated with the power.
The proposed legislation would make participation in mandated power company energy efficiency programs an option for large, or “mercantile” customers, just as the 2014 legislation made participation an option for heavy industry.