Legislation that would undo a renewable energy mandate in Ohio passed a key vote in the state House of Representatives on Thursday. The bill, turning Ohio's existing renewable energy requirements into voluntary standards, passed by a vote of 65-29.
That would be a large enough margin for the House to override a veto by Gov. John Kasich, but only if the Senate goes along.
The current law, passed in 2008, requires utilities to get 12.5 percent of the electricity they sell from renewable energy sources by 2027. After an early fight, this deadline was put on hold from 2014 to the end of 2016. The current bill would continue to block the advance of the renewables mandate. The state met its current mandate of getting 2.5 percent of electricity from renewables in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available.
The new legislation, championed by the Republican-led House and supported by fossil fuel interests, would make the clean-energy quota voluntary and would weaken separate requirements for utilities' energy efficiency programs. Ratepayers would be able to opt out of paying for clean-energy programs.
The bill, a potentially significant setback for renewable energy in a key swing state with extensive fossil fuel development, is one of hundreds of state energy bills, both for and against renewables, that are being fought out nationwide this year even as the Trump administration seeks to bring back coal and promote fossil fuels.
Kasich, also a Republican, vetoed a similar bill in December. That bill passed in both the Ohio House and Senate, but not with enough votes to override the veto. Kasich's spokeswoman, Emmalee Kalmbach, said the current bill would hurt the state's economy.
"As we compete against states that are embracing clean energy, like Texas and Michigan, for 21st century jobs, the governor has been clear regarding the need to work with the General Assembly to craft a bill that supports a diverse mix of reliable, low-cost energy sources while preserving the gains we have made in the state's economy," Kalmbach told the Columbus Dispatch.
Environmental and clean energy advocates also criticized the bill.
"This is clearly a step backwards for Ohioans," Jennifer Miller, director of the Sierra Club's Ohio Chapter, said in a statement. "Ohioans of all political persuasions support clean energy investments that create jobs, save customers money, and reduce pollution."
"It's unfortunate that Ohio continues to undermine its reputation and its economy by throwing roadblocks in front of renewable energy and energy efficiency," Ted Ford, president of the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy said. "The advanced energy industry has created over 100,000 jobs and attracted billions in investment to Ohio. Ohio can't go forward by going backward."
A group of Ohio manufacturers and trade associations including Whirlpool Corporation, Dow and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association opposed the bill's energy efficiency rollbacks.
"We encourage you to keep Ohio's Energy Efficiency Standard intact," the group wrote in a March 21 letter to Rep. Seitz, a co-sponsor of the bill and chairman of the state's House Public Utilities Committee. "Energy efficiency programs are good for all Ohio businesses and residents."
Rep. Louis Blessing, a Republican and sponsor of the bill, praised the bill in a tweet.
"Replacing these often costly mandates with goals and incentives keeps benchmarks in place for energy companies looking to increase production of renewable energy without the influence of government," Blessing tweeted. "This helps keep costs down not only for the industry, but also for consumers."
The bill will now move to the Senate for a vote. Miller said it is unlikely to get the two-thirds majority it needs to be veto-proof.
"This is very similar to the bill passed last year that the governor vetoed," Miller said. "The Senate recognizes that, and the bill did not pass with a veto-proof majority last time."