Ohio Rolls Back Renewable Energy Standards

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Many states around the U.S. have adopted policies that encourage the development of renewable energy. Lately, though, there's been a major push nationwide for states to repeal those policies. As Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports, Ohio appears to be the first state to temporarily halt some of their standards for utilities.


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Now, signs of a reversal of sorts on the renewable energy front. Over the past decade, many states passed laws requiring electric utilities to get power from sources like wind and solar. But today, attitudes appear to be shifting with some lawmakers arguing that those standards are driving up electric bills. Last week, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed legislation freezing alternative energy standards for that state's utilities. Andy Chow of Ohio Public Radio reports.

ANDY CHOW, BYLINE: I'm in northwest Ohio standing under just 1 of 150 wind turbines at the Blue Creek Wind Farm. This is the state's largest wind farm created by Iberdrola Renewables, a nationwide developer. They invested $600 million into the project because of the state standards.

PAUL COPLEMAN: They were a critical component to jumpstarting renewable energy in Ohio, as well as other states. They set out a path for how to develop projects in these states and encouraged that type of investment.

CHOW: That's Paul Copleman with Iberdrola. He's now realizing how much the political winds may have shifted against renewable energy here, quite a shift from 6 years ago - then, many of the same lawmakers who backed this current freeze on alternative standards, approved them. Those standards required utilities to both save a certain amount of energy and ensure that a quarter of it came from alternative sources by 2025. So what exactly pushed the GOP-led legislator to go down the green road originally? - In two words, the recession. But that was 2008 and this is now, there's a patched up economy and a shale natural gas boom, so some lawmakers see no reason to burden utilities with these tough energy standards. Republican leaders argue that renewable energy cost more, which translates into higher electric bills. State Senator Bill Seitz claims alternative energy companies are fighting to keep the standards so they can continue to benefit from the investment mandated by the government

SENATOR BILL SEITZ: And I would submit to you that the people complain about this bill, despite saying it's about being green, are really all about making green.

CHOW: But that's not how Democrats in the statehouse see it, State Representative Bob Hagan insists it's just the opposite. He says the freeze is driven by campaign contributions from utilities, not consumer interest.

REPRESENTATIVE BOB HAGAN: Ohioans are seeing this 310 for what it really is - a political favor that benefits a few wealthy well-connected political supporters at a substantial cost for the rest of us.

CHOW: While the bill calls for only a two-year freeze of the energy standards, alternative energy supporters believe it'll put the state dangerously close to a repeal later on. Democratic State Representative Dan Ramos argues that a freeze creates uncertainty and drives away investment.

REPRESENTATIVE DAN RAMOS: It tells the free market, it tells business, Ohio's not for you if you want to create jobs in the alternative energy sector.

CHOW: Ohio's step back from renewal energy incentives is driven in part by a national campaign. A group called American Legislative Exchange Council, known by its initials as ALEC, crafts model legislation with a conservative free-market approach. Its goal is to repeal renewable standards across the country. Paul Copleman with the wind turbine company Iberdrola isn't too worried yet. He notes that no state has thrown out the standards altogether.

COPLEMAN: The legislation as approved in Ohio is a long way from the ALEC agenda.

CHOW: Yet other states are creeping closer to that. Some legislatures, like Kansas, have proposed a complete repeal. When Governor John Kasich signed Ohio's measure, he stressed it's only a freeze, giving lawmakers a chance to review the standards. But even that move makes Ohio the first state to officially retreat in any way from its standards. And to some Democratic lawmakers, that means Ohio could be setting an example and prompting other states of follow suit. For NPR News, I'm Andy Chow in Columbus, Ohio.


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