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Kasich freezing renewable energy standards heats up hope for FitzGerald

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When the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate passed Senate Bill 310 (Troy Balderson) Wednesday, sending it to Gov. John Kasich for his signature, what was billed as a temporary freeze of government mandates for renewable energy could play into the hands of Kasich's Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald, who was quick to condemn the bill and the governor's signature on it as an example of why the incumbent Republican should be turned out of office in November.

The bill creates a legislative study committee to more thoroughly review existing mandates and make policy change recommendations to the legislature. Representative Peter Stautberg (R-Anderson Twp.), chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee, told reporters today that deferring the escalation in the government mandates compliance requirements will avoid the electric bill increases that will occur if nothing is done. "Senate Bill 310 will also make energy bills more transparent for everyday Ohioans by requiring utility companies to disclose the cost of the mandates on customer bills.," he said.

Gov. Kasich, running for a second and final four-year term this year, said he intends to sign it. His spokesman, Rob Nichols, said in a statement that SB 310 is a "balanced" way to support renewable energy while helping Ohio's economic recovery. Known for his sometimes ludicrous statements, Nichols said, "Ohio needs more renewable and alternative energy sources and it needs a strong system to support them as they get started," according to published reports. "It's naïve, however, to think that government could create that system perfectly the first time and never have to check back to see if everything's OK," he added.

Kasich likewise must thinks as Nichols that it's a "a solid plan to examine the progress Ohio has made while also holding onto that progress. "It's not what everyone wanted, which probably means we came down at the right spot," he said according to one Ohio newspaper.

Gov. Kasich's Democratic challenger this year, Ed FitzGerald, released a statement on the announcement from Gov. Kasich office that he intends to sign SB 310 into law. By doing so, FitzGerald said, Kasich will become the first state chief executive in the nation to freeze renewable energy and efficiency standards.

"Tonight, Governor Kasich's office announced that he intends to move Ohio's economy, families, and environment backwards. SB 310 will force utility prices to rise, and cost Ohioans thousands of jobs," Cuyahoga County Executive FitzGerald said. "In signing this bill, Governor Kasich will align himself with the Koch Brothers and the wealthy and well connected, and against working Ohioans. As Governor, I will work to make Ohio a national energy leader, rather than make headlines for trapping Ohio in the Rust Belt."

The statement included a comment on the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, which threw its support behind the bill that makes Ohio the first state in the nation to "significantly ease its renewable-energy standards." The Ohio Manufacturers' Association as well as several other conservative-leaning business groups opposed the bill, the FitzGerald camp said. "Thanks to the freeze, an American Electric Power project that would have created 4,000 new jobs in Ohio before 2019 is also put on hold," FitzGerald, who trailed Kasich in the last Quinnipiac University Ohio Poll by 15 points, said.

The creates the Energy Mandates Study Committee, which will consist of 13 members: six members from the House of Representatives, six members of the Senate, and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chairperson, as an ex officio, nonvoting member.

A statement from the Ohio House noted that the House Public Utilities Committee has worked for several months on energy issues in an attempt to develop the right strategy towards addressing energy and energy efficiency standards. Supporters of the bill include a wide variety of individual business owners, consumers, and large employers in the state.

A common theme heard by the committee, according to the GOP-led House, was the unfair and increasing cost of compliance imposed on electric utility rate payers. The bill "balances the goals of keeping down the cost of electricity consumption while assessing the changing landscape of energy policy issues." The House tabled an amendment that would have deleted the required disclosure of costs of the mandates, and severely curtailed the time for the study committee and legislature to fully consider the issues and enact any possible future recommendations. The Senate later in the day concurred in amendments made in the House, and the bill now heads to Gov. Kasich’s desk.

Meanwhile, to some, Ohio’s clean energy future is in grave peril. According to Mark Shanahan, who provides strategic advice on energy policy and clean energy technology deployment through New Morning Energy LLC and who served as Gov. Ted Stickland’s [2006-2010]Energy Advisor. He wrote that opponents of SB 310 presented "significant data that the standards resulted in billions of dollars invested in Ohio, thousands of jobs created in Ohio and contributed to lower costs for electricity." A number of self-identified conservative Republican business owners, he said in a written piece on the subject, testified that the standards helped them. Any business or trade association that dared to oppose the bill was dismissed as a self-interested "rent seeker," he said.

Shanahan summarized his view of what supporters of the bill argued, namely that government mandates never work and if there were any viable options out there for a clean energy economy the market would implement them. He said witnesses representing large users of electricity argued the standards cost them too much and could threaten jobs. Bill backers said jobs in their areas was the issue, but Shanahan said that when asked, none could name a single company for which this was true. As a point of fact, no investor owned utility presented testimony to either committee, Shanahan said.

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