House Bill 6 derails Ohio's clean energy progress, steers our state off common sense course

The latest version of Sub. House Bill 6 introduced in the Ohio Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee yesterday made this already-bad bill into a magnitudes-worse bill. The legislation is lightyears away from a “comprehensive” approach to energy policy in Ohio -- a desired path that has been touted by Ohio Senate leaders for the better part of a year. 

What is pending in the Ohio Senate now is a bill that amounts to a wish-list that appeases only a few private sector interests in Ohio, at the expense of Ohio families, small businesses and the health of current and future Ohioans. Since 2009, Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards had Ohio on a path of new clean energy jobs, new investment and revenue coming into Ohio, and annual carbon pollution reductions equivalent to about a million homes’ worth of electricity consumption. 

HB 6 derails this progress, and steers our state off this common sense course.

What is the reason for this major shift in Ohio energy policy? Let’s take a look at who wins with this legislation, and who is on the losing end of such a dramatic departure.

First, Ohio’s investor-owned utilities - FirstEnergy, AEP Ohio, Duke Energy and Dayton Power & Light - will get customer charges for coal and nuclear plants locked in for the foreseeable future. FirstEnergy Solutions stands to benefit the most, with consumers contributing $150 million per year to keep this company’s two nuclear plants running in northern Ohio. The bill widens disparities among utility customers in regards to who has to shoulder the burden of utility costs. While homeowners, renters and very small businesses will continue to pay for their respective utility’s investment in renewable energy, HB 6 would exempt big corporate interests from having to pay. 

The bill picks winners within the wind and solar industry at the expense of all other competitors in the wind and solar industry. An exclusive set of utility-scale solar developers will be eligible for approximately $20 million in new subsidies, while commercial-sized and residential rooftop solar developers would be harmed by the elimination of the solar carve-out under Ohio’s current renewable portfolio standard. The bill also contains special concessions for just one boutique wind company that specializes in smaller behind-the-meter wind projects, which would help this one particular kind of wind project, but the bill does not address the blackest mark on Ohio’s wind potential - draconian wind turbine siting requirements that have stalled any new wind farms in Ohio for the past five years. 

HB 6 effectively eliminates Ohio’s energy efficiency rebate and incentive programs that have helped Ohio homeowners and businesses save over $5 billion on their energy bills since 2009. Throughout the debate on the bill, some utilities expressed a desire to continue efficiency programs voluntarily even if the “mandated” efficiency standard were to be eliminated. The previous version of this bill allowed for utilities to pursue efficiency programs voluntarily, but this latest version prohibits that. These combined changes will mean a hard stop for energy-saving opportunities for Ohio families and businesses.

From our perspective, the most disturbing aspect of this legislation is that it will likely pass this week and be signed by Governor DeWine at precisely the time when public health and public infrastructure are under tremendous strain due to the extreme weather being caused by climate change. Right now, intense and prolonged heat waves degrade air quality and impact children and adults with asthma. Rain events that produce inches of rain in short periods of time not only flood roads, but push our stormwater drains to their limits. HB 6 will accelerate these impacts, and our lawmakers need to understand exactly what a yes vote on this legislation means -- worse health for Ohioans, higher electricity bills, and yet another indicator that Ohio is not open for business for renewables, the fastest growing industry in America.