COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House approved much-debated legislation Wednesday freezing renewable energy and efficiency mandates for two years, over continued objections from Democratic members, environmental groups and others.
Senate Bill 310 also creates a new study committee to develop recommendations for future standards, among numerous other changes to energy laws.
The legislation passed the House on a vote of 53-38, with several Republican members joining Democrats in dissent. The Senate planned to follow suit later in the day, and Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign the bill.
Backers say the existing mandates on the books are unrealistic and will lead to big jumps in consumers' energy bills.
"These levels and additional amounts are simply not achievable or sustainable," said Rep. Peter Stautberg, R-Cincinnati, chairman of the committee that considered the legislation.
Opponents countered that the bill will stifle green energy industries and hurt the environment. Rep. Mike Foley, D-Cleveland, called SB 310 the "worst and most self-destructive bill that I've voted on in my eight years in the general assembly. ... What good reason does this general assembly have for passing a bill that costs jobs and makes utilities more expensive for families and small businesses?"
SB 310 traces its roots to legislation passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Ted Strickland about six years ago that required power companies to generate a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources and to institute efficiency initiatives. Utilities are allowed to pass the costs of meeting the mandates onto their customers.
The legislation was moved at time when other states were seeing big increases in electric bills, and lawmakers moved to re-regulate an industry that they had deregulated in the late 1990s.
At issue now is whether those mandates are driving up costs for businesses and consumers or having the intended effect of lowering energy use and prompting growth and innovation in related industries.
Among other provisions, SB 310 would freeze renewable energy and efficiency benchmarks for the next two years and create a study committee that would have to offer recommendations for future energy-related law changes by September 2015. The renewable energy and efficiency mandates in current law would restart in 2017.
Opponents said the bill would reverse course on green energy advancements that are needed to protect the environment. The legislation, they said, will hurt manufacturers of wind turbines and solar panels and other related green industries.
Rep. Louis Terhar, R-Cincinnati, called the bill a compromise approach, "to take the state, to move it in a more reasonable direction. It takes a two-year pause in a state that is already well ahead of all of its peers in both renewables and energy conservation and says what's the cost, what's the value, what's the impact, how do we ensure that we have a livable state with good jobs for people in the future, and how does our energy situation play into that decision?"
Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, said the bill is a "political favor that benefits a few wealthy, well-connected political supporters at a substantial cost for the rest of us."
Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, added in a released statement, "When we say no to our state's clean energy standards we lose investment in our communities. We lose both the jobs created since 2008 and those promised by further development of renewable energy projects. We lose graduates in emerging STEM fields to other states that bolster their renewable energy programs. And we lose hope that Ohio will make strides toward being a cleaner, greener state."
Democrats offered amendments, including one to eliminate the two-year freeze and another to implement a one-year freeze on mandates. Those amendments failed.