June 15, 2014

Ohio House Panel’s Leader Blocks Compromise Green-Energy Plan

A rewrite of Ohio’s “green” energy rules has cleared an Ohio House committee after the chairman refused to allow debate on a proposed compromise that had been suggested by manufacturers and consumer advocates.

The measure is heading to the House floor, where supporters say they expect it to pass as soon as today. 

The Senate passed it this month.

Senate Bill 310 would place a two-year freeze on state standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency. It also would change the standards when they resume in 2017.

Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, asked the panel to consider a substitute bill that was based on suggestions from the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel. It would have reduced the freeze to one year and made several other changes.

The committee chairman, Rep. Peter Stautberg, R-Anderson Township, declined to recognize Duffey’s motion.

Stautberg also ruled out of order a separate attempt to vote on a one-year freeze, this one by Mark Romanchuk, R-Mansfield, saying it was submitted after the deadline for amendments. However, Duffey reminded him that some of the chairman’s own amendments also were drafted late.

“Maybe we dismissed the House rules. Maybe they don’t matter,” Duffey said. “The chairman ignores his own deadline that he imposes on the rest of us.”

Stautberg said that it was within his discretion to rule on amendments and that he was pleased with the final version of this “very thoughtful bill.”

The proposed compromise is the most recent of several attempts by manufacturers and consumer advocates to rein in the parts of the bill that they say will lead to job losses and utility-rate increases. Their plan’s provisions include reducing the energy-efficiency standards by about one-third in addition to the one-year freeze.

Despite the support of major employers such as Honda and the backing of legislators in both parties, legislative leaders have not allowed the alternative plan to come to a vote. Key legislators have said they are not aware of the competing plan.

Last week, the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, said the compromise plan “ did not come across my desk.”

Yesterday, Stautberg said he had not seen Duffey’s proposal, so he could not comment on it.

Duffey said that many Republicans are uncomfortable with the bill and would like the opportunity to vote on a compromise.

The bill has the support of electricity utilities and many business groups. It is opposed by environmental groups, consumer advocates and some businesses.

The House Public Utilities Committee passed the bill in a 13-9 vote yesterday. One Democrat voted for it (Rep. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland) and two Republicans voted against it (Duffey and Romanchuk).

The panel made two notable changes to the proposal:

• Canadian hydroelectric power would not count toward Ohio renewable-energy standards. Critics have said the previous version of the bill was opening the door to using Canadian power in this way.

• Limits on so-called “shared savings” payments that utilities can get for certain types of energy-efficiency projects were altered. Critics have said that the previous wording would have allowed utilities to be paid for things that they would do anyway.

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