By Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A contentious bill delaying the phase-in of Ohio's renewable energy and efficiency standards cleared a key legislative panel Tuesday, as state lawmakers seek to finish the measure before leaving for summer break.
The proposal addresses targets for how much energy Ohio utilities must generate from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, by 2025. The House Public Utilities Committee approved the bill 13-9, sending it to the full House.
Opponents of the legislation - including advanced-energy companies, faith and civil-rights leaders and environmentalists - have lobbied hard against the bill's two-year pause in the standards negotiated by Gov. John Kasich and senators. They say such targets promote environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels and create high-tech jobs in the growing alternative-energy sector.
The bill's backers contend the targets drive up prices for average electric consumers who have been given little choice in the matter.
The measure cleared the Senate earlier this month after a committee backed off efforts to effectively repeal the mandates through a permanent moratorium.
Current law requires utilities to produce 12.5 percent of their energy from renewable sources and 12.5 percent from advanced sources by 2025. The law also required companies to help customers reduce electricity use 22 percent by 2025.
But the bill would effectively pause the progress on the targets for two years as a new study committee looks at the issue. The benchmarks would resume as scheduled in 2017 unless lawmakers act on the study panel's recommendations before then. And the phase-in of targets would conclude in 2027 in order to allow for the two-year hiatus.
The House committee made several technical changes Tuesday. They also added jobs and greenhouse gases to the lists of matters the study committee should review.
Majority Republicans tabled a Democratic amendment to scrap the freeze while continuing to have the panel study the issue.
Republican Rep. Mark Romanchuk of Mansfield also sought to make the freeze one year and expand the study committee's scope. But his proposal was ruled out of order.
"Why wait two years when we can get it done in a year?" asked Romanchuk, one of two Republicans who voted against the bill.
Chairman Peter Stautberg, a Cincinnati-area Republican, said a one-year freeze was impractical.
"You are asking a committee of legislators, principally, to get together and study a subject and do a comprehensive study on many different issues and come up with a report and the legislature to act," Stautberg told reporters. He said a year wouldn't allow enough time to achieve that.
Republican Rep. Mike Duffey of Worthington said many Republicans believe mandates should not exist for renewable energy and efficiency and favor voluntary approaches to achieving such standards.
Duffey voted against the bill after trying to offer changes to the bill that included a one-year freeze. He also lamented the House committee's amendment process.
"A lot of us want to see something that is considered a compromise," he said, "not just something that's being rammed down people's throats."