Ohio Senate President Stacks the Deck against Renewable Energy

September 24, 2014
Sam Gomberg
Senior Analyst

Ohio’s clean energy standards may never get the evidence and science-based review that was promised. Last week, Ohio senate president Keith Faber appointed outspoken opponents of renewable energy and energy efficiency to a committee supposedly intended to do an objective review of Ohio’s clean energy standards. Most disappointing is the inclusion of Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), who has waged a biased and misleading campaign against Ohio’s clean energy standards for the past two years.

wind-turbine-and-corn_Flickr-Patrick-Finnegan

This post is part of a series on Ohio’s Clean Energy Standards.

The study committee was created as part of Senate Bill 310 (SB310), passed earlier this year, that froze Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards at current levels for two years while an “Energy Mandates Study Committee” reviews the costs and benefits of Ohio’s clean energy standards. As originally enacted in 2008, these standards would have required utilities to gradually ramp up to meeting 12.5 percent of Ohio’s energy from renewable energy and to reduce demand by 22 percent compared to business as usual through energy efficiency programs — each by 2025.

SB310 passed despite the presentation of numerous studies showing the benefits to Ohio of clean energy investments, how Ohio’s renewable energy standard is being met affordably, and how energy efficiency is saving consumers money and avoiding the need for new power plant investments. Unfortunately, this body of evidence couldn’t withstand the barrage of attacks put forth by fossil fuel and utility special interests that are determined to keep Ohio dependent on fossil fuels.

Ohio Statehouse - Columbus

The Ohio Legislature continues to discuss the future of clean energy in Ohio with an “Energy Mandates Study Committee” that will make recommendations to the full legislature in 2015. (Photo: The Ohio Channel)

Much of the reason the discourse over Ohio’s clean energy future has been dominated by political rhetoric and special interest lobbying is Senator Seitz. In his role as Chair of the Ohio Senate Public Utilities Committee, Senator Seitz has repeatedly derided studies — from the Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Lab, Ohio State University, Ohio-based public interest organizations, the American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy, and others — that show how Ohioans are benefiting from investments in clean energy. He has given utility special interest undue influence over the policy-making process, refused to listen to counter-arguments against the misleading attacks by clean energy critics, and unduly hyped the chicken-little claims of utilities that rates will “skyrocket” if Ohio continues to pursue a cleaner, more efficient electricity system.

Further, his antics have repeatedly stifled any chance of an honest debate on these matters. He has likened Ohio’s clean energy standards to Stalin’s five-year plan, compared listening to citizens who testify in favor of clean energy to being on the Bataan Death March, and generally harassed witnesses who don’t agree with his misguided attacks on clean energy. This suggests he will take every effort to derail any truly objective review of the evidence during his time on the study committee.

And I might also point out that while Senator Seitz has waged his war against clean energy under the flag of “keeping rates low,” he — and the legislature generally — has remained silent as Ohio utilities seek a customer-funded bailout for their aging coal-fired power plants.

In sum, Senator Seitz’s appointment to the study committee makes an objective review less likely and is not in the best interest of Ohioans who want an affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy future.

Clean energy continues to provide benefits to Ohio despite what appears to be a anti-clean energy agenda at the state legislature.

Ohio has only begun to tap into its clean energy resources. Continuing the state’s commitment to these resources could bring significant benefits to Ohio as it diversifies its electricity mix away from an over-reliance on fossil fuels.

I suppose we should have seen this coming. The language of SB310 essentially tells us that the study committee’s review will not be objective. The new law states that it is the intent of the legislature to “enact legislation in the future, after taking into account the recommendations of the Energy Mandates Study Committee, that will reduce the mandates.” This is akin to a judge telling the jury to review all the facts and then come back with a guilty verdict.

The other Senate members of the committee will include: Senator Troy Balderson (R), a sponsor of SB310 and outspoken critic of clean energy; Senator Cliff Hite (R), who has championed wind energy in his district, but voted in favor of SB310; Senator Shirley Smith (D), who was the lone democratic senator to support SB310; Senator Bob Peterson (R), who voted for SB310; and Senator Capri Cafaro (D), who voted against SB310.

Senate president Faber and senators Balderson and Seitz all have connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the fossil fuel-funded climate skeptic group that has tried and so far failed to roll back clean energy standards in other states.

The remaining six committee members will be appointed by the Ohio Speaker of the House Bill Batchelder.

Let’s hope the other members of the study committee are able to stand up to Seitz and his posturing and demand the evidence and science-based review of Ohio’s clean energy standards that was promised when SB310 passed. I, for one, would look forward to an honest discussion of the costs and benefits of continuing Ohio’s commitment to clean energy.