Republican Fossil Fueled Fog Machines Gear Up
by Mark Shanahan
The bill to dismantle Ohio’s clean energy standards (SB 310) passed the House Wednesday afternoon 53-38; within the hour, the Senate concurred with the House’s minor changes 21-11. And, Governor Kasich’s office announced he “looked forward to signing it.”
The Republican floor debate and the Kasich statement reveal the strategy that will be deployed over the next months to confuse Ohioans about what just happened. Here are the arguments:
- We were just protecting clean energy requirements against the extremes. The two extremes here are the desire of the “free market” devotees led by Bill Seitz to abolish the portfolio standards completely and those who thought we should let them continue to work. This will be one of Kasich’s favorites. It casts him as the reasonable, centrist Governor who can be conservative in a state that leans blue in national elections.
- It’s only a temporary freeze while we study the issue. After stressing how long they had worked on SB 310 (almost two years), proponents argued that if only they could study it more (until September 2015), the complexity would be unraveled and consensus could be achieved. Of course, the study committee will be made up of the same folks who couldn’t resolve contradictory data presented during the SB310 debate. And, in the meantime, advanced energy companies will be making investment decisions and looking for signals that those investments will be welcomed and secure.
- We need to protect all Ohioans against skyrocketing costs caused by government mandates. This one just ignores data to the contrary. The utilities’ own reports to PUCO document literally billions of dollars saved over the next few years by the efficiency standard. Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy analyzed the PUCO documents in depth and found that SB310 will cost average residential consumers $100 to $150 during the freeze and small commercial customers between $17,000 and $32,000. And who will calculate the cost of lost jobs and investment? The wind industry alone will probably take more than $2 billion and invest it elsewhere.
- We only want transparency for consumers. That’s why the bill requires utilities to break out the monthly cost of meeting the clean energy standards on each customer’s bill. When it was suggested that those bills also contain the benefits to ratepayers or break out other costs like industrial subsidies, bill advocates said that would be too complicated for people to understand and too costly for utilities to do.
- This is about the job creators. A number of large employers supported the bill and warned that the cost of standards threatened jobs. Their desire to lower their electric bills is taken quite seriously. Not so the objections of large employers opposed to the bill. They are dismissed as blinded by self-interest. The bottom line, though, is that the advanced energy industry is the only new industry emerging in Ohio today. Cleveland State economist Ned Hill pointed out that the real difference between the two groups is a different vision of the future of energy production. Supporters of SB 310 are looking for the best deal in the current system of large power plants and major utilities. Opponents see a future in which renewables and efficiency are essential alternatives to expensive new power plants.
- Utilities? What utilities? No utility offered testimony on SB 310 despite the key role it will play in their business plans. The Senate’s legal counsel even argued publicly that no one knew where the utilities stood on the issues because there was no testimony. The pages of the Toledo Blade, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Akron Beacon Journal have been clear about the leadership role played by FirstEnergy in the attack on clean energy standards over the last several years. Even the Columbus Dispatch reported on May 25 that SB310’s speed might be attributed to FirstEnergy’s CEO and his wife nearly maxing out their contributions to Kasich, Batchelder and House Public Utilities vice chair Roegner.
Perhaps the advancing fog is best exemplified by Kasich himself: he looks forward to signing the bill to dismantle Ohio’s clean energy policy while saying “Ohio needs more renewable and alternative energy sources and it needs a strong system to support them as they get started.” Whether you call it sleight of hand or hypocrisy, the intent is to keep voters confused.
Mark Shanahan provides strategic advice on energy policy and clean energy technology deployment through New Morning Energy LLC. He served as Governor Stickland’s Energy Advisor.