Renewable Energy

WOSU: Bill Would Let Companies Opt Out Of Weaker Renewable Energy Standards

June 26, 2018
Bill Would Let Companies Opt Out Of Weaker Renewable Energy Standards
By Andy Chow

A bill that would overhaul the way Ohio mandates the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency is likely to get a vote in the Senate this week.

The bill would take the amount of renewable energy the state requires to be on the grid, and cut it by a third.

The measure gives more companies the ability to opt out of energy efficiency standards.

Robert Kelter with the Environmental Law and Policy Center says companies that opt out will end up spending more money on their electric bills which will have a ripple effect on all Ohioans.

“It would allow energy customers who really don’t have the knowledge or the expertise about energy efficiency to make the efficiency investments that they should be making,” Kelter said.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce defends the opt out provision arguing that it allows companies to make energy decisions based on marketplace demands.

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Michigan Radio: Environmentalists ask MPSC to Reconsider DTE’s Billion-Dollar Natural Gas Plant

June 21, 2018
Environmentalists ask MPSC to Reconsider DTE’s Billion-Dollar Natural Gas Plant
By Tracy Samilton

Environmental groups haven’t given up trying to stop DTE Energy from building a $1 billion natural gas plant.

The groups are asking the Michigan Public Service Commission to reconsider the permit it approved for the plant.

Margrethe Kearney is with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. She says renewable energy becomes cheaper and more reliable every year.

“And it just doesn’t make sense for Michigan to say we’re going to build a huge natural gas plant, which means of course we won’t be building any of that other stuff,” she says.

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Energywire: Ohio Senate Looks for Compromise in Energy Stalemate

June 20, 2018
Ohio Senate looks for compromise in energy stalemate 
By Jeffrey Tomich

As its Great Lakes neighbors Illinois and Michigan firm up plans to add thousands of megawatts of new wind and solar energy in the coming years, a stalemate over clean energy policy drags on in the Buckeye State.

The Ohio Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will try to move the debate forward this afternoon as it holds another hearing on a substitute version of a bill that passed the House mostly along party lines in March 2017.

Unlike H.B. 114, which would have ended renewable energy mandates, the substitute bill lowers renewable energy targets. It would also make other key changes, including easing wind turbine setback requirements put in place in 2014.

The proposal to relax wind setback requirements has support from legislators in both parties, as well as wind developers like EDP Renewables and Apex Clean Energy.

Some clean energy advocates, too, have signaled that they’re willing to live with lower clean energy targets to help jump-start wind development and provide certainty in the market.

But sharp divisions remain on certain provisions in the substitute bill, especially around energy efficiency, and it’s less than clear whether the bill will appear before the Legislature before it adjourns next Wednesday.

Environmental and consumer groups will testify in opposition to the H.B. 114 substitute bill.

Among the key sticking points for environmental advocates is an opt-out provision for so-called mercantile customers, or commercial and industrial customers that use at least 700,000 kilowatt-hours of energy a year. Another provision would allow utilities to carry over energy savings from one year to the next for the purpose of earning financial incentives.

“If we can fix some of the critical elements of the bill, it will be a compromise we can live with,” said Robert Kelter, an attorney for the Chicago-based Environmental Policy & Law Center, a Midwestern advocacy group.

“We’re willing to make trade-offs in return for certainty,” he said. “But those trade-offs can’t include killing energy efficiency.”

Currently, only the largest industrial energy users are allowed to opt out of utility efficiency programs — a policy compromise agreed to during an earlier debate over Ohio’s clean energy standards in 2013.

Trish Demeter, vice president for energy policy at the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, said the provision predictably led to an outcry from business customers that narrowly missed qualifying for the opt-out.

“Opt-outs are an inherently unfair policy,” Demeter said. “Where do you draw the line?”

 

Opt-Out Option

Under the proposal in the Senate substitute bill, a wide range of commercial customers would be allowed to opt out of paying into efficiency and peak demand reduction programs, including smaller businesses that still rely on utilities to help them identify energy savings opportunities, she said.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce singled out the efficiency opt-out provision as a reason it supports the bill. The business group also favors changes to the wind setback rule.

“Energy efficiency helps businesses compete best when free enterprise drives investment decisions rather than government mandates,” Zack Frymier, the chamber’s director of energy and environmental policy, said last month in testimony.

The Senate substitute would lower Ohio’s renewable energy standard to 8.5 percent of sales from 12.5 percent by 2027. The bill would similarly reduce a 0.5 percent carve-out for solar energy.

The substitute version of H.B. 114 would lower energy savings benchmarks of 2 percent starting in 2021 to 1.5 percent and reduce cumulative savings to 17.2 percent from the 22.2 percent in the existing law.

Ohio’s renewable and efficiency standards have been a constant source of debate since they were adopted a decade ago.

S.B. 310 in 2014, a measure that froze the standards for two years, was approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Kasich (R). But the governor vetoed a subsequent bill, H.B. 554, in 2016 that would have extended the freeze.

A Kasich spokesperson didn’t respond to questions seeking the governor’s stance on the Senate substitute bill.

Clean energy advocates, meanwhile, say Ohio has other policies in place to support renewable energy development, including net metering for rooftop solar and a competitive energy market that lets businesses enter power purchase agreements for wind and solar energy.

And utilities so far are having no trouble meeting or exceeding renewable targets under the existing law.

Meanwhile, both of Michigan’s large investor-owned utilities this month committed to getting at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. And one of those utilities, Consumers Energy, filed plans with Michigan regulators last week to far exceed that goal and get 37 percent of its energy from renewables by the end of next decade (Energywire, June 14).

Said Demeter: “It’s just kind of silly that they’re proposing to roll it back. It’s just kind of bad optics.”

WBEZ Chicago: MeLena Hessel Discusses Renewable Energy in Illinois

April 6, 2018
Illinois Steps Up As A Leader On Renewable Energy
By Daniel Tucker

The Illinois Commerce Commission signed off on a long term plan this week that clean energy advocates say will increase the installation and use of renewables like solar energy and wind power across the state. The new changes mean Illinois is on track to have renewables account for 25 percent of its overall energy by 2025. That would put Illinois among the top states for renewable energy. Morning Shift discusses what this means for businesses and the average consumer with MeLena Hessel, Clean Energy and Sustainable Business Policy Advocate at Chicago’s Environmental Law and Policy Center.

GUESTS:

MeLena Hessel, Clean Energy and Sustainable Business Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center

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Michigan Radio, NPR: What Will Replace Coal?

Michigan Radio, NPR
What Will Replace Coal?
By Tracy Samilton

The President of the United States says coal is coming back, but in reality coal is going away.

The fight is over what will replace it.

Even utilities are dumping coal. In Michigan, DTE Energy wants to shut down three coal-burning power plants and replace them with a billion dollar natural gas plant.

But environmentalists think there’s a better way.

First of all, there’s no such thing as clean coal.

Even brand new coal plants dump a lot of carbon into the air. Carbon emissions are very bad for the planet, and it’s a fact that renewable energy sources like solar and wind emit zero carbon.

DTE Energy’s Irene Dimitry doesn’t disagree.

“We support renewables and want to make sure that people understand that we do,” Dimitry says. “We just need to do it in a paced, thoughtful, plan-ful way.”

Dimitry says DTE is closing three of its coal-burning plants in five years, but she says it’s not feasible for renewables to take their place. That’s where a plan for a new 1,100 megawatt natural gas plant comes in.

“Because the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine, and because storage is not yet commercial viable at a large scale, we really need a plant that can operate 24-7 and insure reliability for our customers,” Dimitry says.

Right now, natural gas is cheap and plentiful, and it produces about 60% fewer carbon emissions than coal. Still, DTE can’t just build the plant; it needs permission from the Michigan Public Service Commission.

To do that, it has to analyze the alternatives and show the plant is the best choice. So, a fancy computer program ran 50 different simulations. Dimitry says all concluded the plant is necessary.

Not so fast, says Margrethe Kearney of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Kearney says if a fancy computer program is told to maximize renewables, and maximize programs that reduce demand for electricity, the two combined beat out the natural gas plant.

“Everything that our experts ran shows that, yes, it’s feasible, absolutely, it’s cost effective,” Kearney says.

Kearney thinks DTE is stuck in an old mind set, one that viewed natural gas as a necessary bridge to replace coal until renewables are ready for prime time.

“Renewables are a legitimate available resource, and by not recognizing that, we’re keeping Michigan in the dark ages,” says Kearney.

She adds that, at the very least, DTE could build a smaller plant or defer building one to give alternatives time to develop.

But she thinks there’s a disincentive for DTE Energy to do that, because the utility doesn’t pay for the plant; rather, its customers do.

“It’s not just that the customers pay for it,” Kearney says. “Part of what the customers are paying is a return on that investment, so DTE is going to make around 10% in profit on that investment, DTE shareholders.”

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Curbed: ELPC’s Andy Olsen Emphasizes the Importance of Solar Energy for Rural America’s Development

The Rural Renewable Power Renaissance
Solar and wind have made great strides across the country. Will Trump’s budget halt progress toward a greener heartland?
April 4, 2017
By Patrick Sisson

Abita Springs, Louisiana, a bedroom community of 2,365 about an hour north of New Orleans, is the picture of a small Southern town. The fifth-largest city in St. Tammany Parish, it’s best known for the local microbrewery Abita Brewing Company. Late last month, it also made news as the latest municipality in the country to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

“I hope we’re setting an example for other small communities across the country,” says Mayor Greg Lemons, who made it a point to lead by example and add solar panels to his boat on Lake Pontchartrain. “I want people to say, ‘Look at Abita Springs, a small town with a $3 million budget. They’re doing something.’”

So far, the Abita Springs effort is in its preliminary stage. The town is already replacing regular bulbs with LED lights, but is also examining how to add solar panels to all municipal buildings and, eventually, include electric vehicle charging stations. It’s just a plan and a promise, but the gesture is also a symbol of the growth of renewable energy in the U.S., especially in rural areas of the country.

”I’m a Republican, but I’m not a Republican that says ‘business at any cost,’” says Lemons. “We need to be concerned about our environment and invest in our environment.”

Increasingly, Lemons isn’t a outlier. As the new administration begins to enact its energy policy, including support for the coal industry, the conventional wisdom says that support for fossil fuels is a play by Trump to appeal to his base of rural voters. But like any cross-section of the country, rural America isn’t easily stereotyped. Renewable power has made significant strides across this part of the country as wind and solar take root in farm country, as well as more sparsely populated parts of the United States.

It’s not just that renewable power is providing more jobs than the coal industry—roughly 300,000 U.S. workers are employed by wind and solar, compared to the 65,971 who work in coal mining—it’s also having an outsized impact on rural communities. The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign, which features municipalities that have, like Abita Springs, committed to a renewable energy future, includes rural towns such as Greensburg, Kansas.

According to Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, significant advances have been made in rural wind and solar power in the last decade, and the growth of these energy sources is helping rural America.

“There is a lot of talk about the gulf between urban and rural Americans,” he says. “There’s a lot less of a gulf than we think. There are a lot of rural people interested in seeing these renewable energy programs work, who are very passionate about natural resource conservation.”

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(IL) Journal State-Register: ELPC’s Andy Olsen says solar energy, wind power are economically competitive to coal

No Quick Fixes for Struggling Illinois Coal Industry
March 28, 2017
By Tim Landis

City Water, Light and Power of Springfield is one of only three power plants in Illinois that still burn Illinois coal.

Even if an executive order signed Tuesday by President Donald Trump withstands anticipated legal challenges, little is expected to change in the short term for an industry that has watched production and jobs steadily decline as a result of stricter clean-air rules, fuel switching by utilities and competition from cheaper natural gas. Illinois coal production fell for the second year in a row in 2016, to 43.3 million tons.

Industry employment in Illinois last year of 3,600 was the lowest since 2010 and far below the 10,000 employed the year the federal Clean Air Act took effect in 1990. Arch Coal Co. and Peabody Energy Corp., both based in St. Louis, filed for bankruptcy in 2016. Arch, owner of the Viper Mine near Elkhart, completed bankruptcy reorganization in October.

“We very much welcome this, but it’s not going to bring coal back to where it was,” Illinois Coal Association president Phil Gonet said Tuesday. “At least it stops the bleeding.”

Gonet said Obama-era climate rules have been the biggest factor in the decline of Illinois coal, though natural gas competition has hurt, too.

“Most of it has been power plants shutting down, but the price of natural gas has had an effect,” said Gonet. “We can compete with natural gas, if we’re given a level playing field.”

More Coal, Fewer Miners

Even if coal sales improve, mining techniques require ever fewer miners for increased production. The 3,600 miners required to produce 43.3 million tons of Illinois coal in 2016 was approximately the same number required to produce 33.4 million tons in 2010, according to coal association figures.

Federal statistics indicate that U.S. production of 739 million tons last year was the lowest in four decades. Employment fell by 60,000 from 2011 to 2016, to approximately 77,000.

The Illinois Sierra Club pointed out Tuesday that the president’s action was taken on the same day the Solar Foundation released an annual employment census showing the solar industry employs more state workers than coal. The 3,700 solar jobs in Illinois last year was up 7 percent from 2015, according to the report.

“Illinois is on course to become the national leader in wind power, solar energy and conservation programs, and we should not let President Trump’s crusade against science, and our legal and moral obligation to act on climate change, determine our future,” Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “States that continue with efforts to limit carbon pollution will now be more likely to attract the jobs, economic investment and cleaner air offered by the steadily growing clean energy economy.”

CWLP, the Prairie State Energy Campus in southwest Illinois and a Southern Illinois Power Cooperative plant near Marion are the only remaining in-state customers for Illinois coal.

Many Alternatives

Traditionally coal-reliant rural electric cooperatives expect nationwide solar-energy capacity at the end of 2017 to be five times the capacity of 2012, according to a report released earlier this month by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. A group of Midwest cooperatives recently launched ruralsolarstories.org to highlight the shift toward renewable power.

“The marketplace has changed to the point that there are many alternatives in natural gas, solar, wind and energy efficiency, which are economically competitive,” said Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a renewable-energy advocacy group based in Chicago.

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ELPC’s Rob Kelter Critical Of Renewed Attacks On Clean Energy In Ohio

GOP State Legislators Trying Again to Weaken Renewable-Energy Standards
March 7, 2017
By Dan Gearino

Republican state legislators are trying again to weaken clean-energy standards, hoping to pass a measure similar to one that Gov. John Kasich vetoed in December.

The 73-page bill would change state rules that require electricity utilities to invest in renewable energy and help customers to reduce energy use.

House Bill 114, introduced Tuesday, has more than 50 co-sponsors, including all of the Republican leadership, in a chamber with 99 members.

“We just wanted to have a strong showing of support,” said Rep. Louis Blessing, R-Cincinnati, the lead sponsor.

Meanwhile, environmentalists, clean-energy businesses and others say that they are ready to fight this proposal just as they did previous ones.

The question for legislators is whether there is enough support to override another veto. Republicans added to their House and Senate majorities in the November election, but it is not clear whether leaders can win the votes of two-thirds of each chamber, the minimum needed to override a veto by Kasich, a fellow Republican.

“I know a lot of people will interpret (the bill) as being hostile to the governor … but that’s not the intent,” Blessing said.

Emmalee Kalmbach, a Kasich spokeswoman, had this statement:

“The governor has been clear regarding the need to work with the General Assembly to craft a bill that supports a diverse mix of reliable, low-cost energy sources while preserving the gains we have made in the state’s economy,” she said.

Among the proposed changes in the bill:

  • Utilities would no longer face penalties for not meeting annual benchmarks for purchases of renewable energy. Instead, the companies would have optional goals.
  • The rules for energy savings would go through several changes, reducing the amount required while also expanding the definition of what types of savings can be counted.
  • Many businesses would be able to opt out of electricity-bill charges that pay for utilities’ clean-energy programs.

Blessing said utilities have indicated to him that they would continue clean-energy programs even without mandates and would like the flexibility of no longer facing penalties for not meeting the standards.

“The mandates at this point are just unnecessary,” he said.

Indeed, Columbus-based American Electric Power has a plan to dramatically expand its spending on wind and solar power.

“We are still reviewing the legislation, but we think there needs to be a broader policy discussion about Ohio’s energy future,” said Scott Blake, an AEP spokesman. “We’ve made significant investments to comply with the renewable and energy efficiency standards that are in place and have run very successful programs for our customers.”

Opponents of the bill say there is no good reason to tinker with a law that has been good for the state.

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” said Rob Kelter, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Ohio’s energy policy is in a good place right now, and we should leave it alone.”

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Energy Supply Report Links Job Growth in Minnesota to Solar Program

Midwest-Energy-News-LogoReport Cites Clean Energy Growth as Minnesota Legislators Push to Eliminate Solar Program
February 2, 2017
By Frank Jossi

A new report aims to persuade Minnesota legislators that clean energy is a strong part of Minnesota’s economy.

Minnesota has 131 companies in the supply chains of the wind and solar industries, according to the report, “Minnesota Wind Power & Solar Energy Supply Chain Businesses: Good for Manufacturing Jobs, Good for Economic Growth and Good for Our Environment,” released today by the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

The report shows “a lot of Minnesota companies are growing and expanding because of our renewable energy policies and there are companies coming to Minnesota because of them,” said Rep. Melissa Hortman, who is the Democratic House Minority Leader.

The report does not directly connect to bills under consideration but instead offers statistics and a narrative describing how the state has become a national leader in clean energy.

Several Republican bills under review in the legislature could potentially slow the spread of clean energy, according to renewable advocates.

Among them is an effort to end the state’s Made in Minnesota solar photovoltaic panel production incentive program. Another bill would remove state regulatory oversight of fixed fees in areas served by cooperatives and municipally owned utilities.

The document includes supply chain maps of solar and wind companies that reveal they operate in each of the state’s congressional districts, including those currently represented by Republicans locally and nationally, he said. The majority are in the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs.

The ELPC had been working on the report for months to showcase that the growth of solar and wind industries in the state has been “good for jobs, good for the economy and good for the environment in Minnesota, and we have the data to prove that,” said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the ELPC.

The dispersion of jobs throughout the state reveals that “renewable energy development offers job creation and economic development everywhere and is a non-partisan issue,” he said. “You see that development in every congressional district in Minnesota.”

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Cleveland Plain Dealer: ELPC’s Kelter Calls Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Veto of State Energy Bill Positive Step Forward

Plain_Dealer_mastheadKasich Wins Strong Support from Environmentalists for Green Mandates
December 27, 2016
By John Funk

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. John Kasich broke ranks with the legislature’s GOP leadership  Tuesday, vetoing a bill crafted by some of the state’s most conservative lawmakers, who believe wind and solar companies should compete against the state’s entrenched power companies on their own.

Kasich’s veto follows a campaign by environmental, business and consumer groups opposing the legislation.

Many of them celebrated the veto on Tuesday. Here are some of their comments.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio:

“While states such as Michigan and Illinois go forward with renewable energy, the Ohio Legislature seems determined to anchor us in the last century,” said Al Rosenfield, the league’s lobbyist. “We are pleased that HB 554 has been vetoed by Governor Kasich. We urge the General Assembly to sustain the veto, so that Ohio can move forward.”

Advanced Energy Economy: 

Today, Governor Kasich’s principled leadership has given Ohio an opportunity to get back on track,” said J.R. Tolbert, vice president for state policy. “He stood behind his commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency, allowing Ohio to regain its competitive advantage nationally. “Governor Kasich understands that renewable energy and energy efficiency create jobs and save money. That’s a formula that is good for business and good for every Ohioan.”

“The two-year freeze has cost Ohio jobs and investments. In the last three years, while Ohio has been idling, Michigan has attracted over $1.1 billion in renewable energy investments,” said Ted Ford, president of Ohio Advanced Energy Economy.

The Environmental Defense Fund:

“Today Governor Kasich put economic growth over politics, and stood up for a cleaner, healthier energy future for Ohio. With the state’s renewable and efficiency standards back in place, Ohio can reclaim its spot as a clean energy leader, clearing the way for well-paying jobs, millions in investment, and healthier air for all. Ohioans should cheer – it may be winter, but the clean energy freeze has finally thawed,” said Dick Munson, director, Midwest Clean Energy.

The Sierra Club Ohio Chapter:

We commend Gov.Kasich for vetoing the Ohio Legislature’s attempt to tie our state to outdated, dirty, and expensive energy sources. The world is doubling down on wind, solar, and energy efficiency, and Ohio’s robust manufacturing base is now in a better position to maximize that opportunity,” said Jenn Miller, director. “The return of energy efficiency and renewable energy standards will benefit all Ohioans, as Ohio’s clean energy programs result in lower energy costs, job creation, and improved air quality. We encourage Gov. Kasich to continue to move forward with clean energy policies that will benefit our state for years to come.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists:

Governor Kasich showed real leadership today. By vetoing House Bill 554, he has sent a strong message to the clean energy market that Ohio is serious about creating jobs and spurring investment in that industry,” said Melanie Moore, Midwest field director.

“The Union of Concerned Scientists has been working in coordination with local experts and activists for several years to lift the renewable energy standard freeze to create a win-win situation for the state’s economy and the environment. Governor Kasich’s actions have shown that he too believes Ohio families and businesses benefit when the state’s energy policy includes strong renewable energy and energy efficiency commitments.

EDP Renewables

“This courageous decision by the Governor is a positive step towards reaping a critical economic benefit for Ohio,” said Ryan Brown, executive vice president for eastern U.S. and Canada. “Reforming siting rules to allow Ohio communities that want to host wind farms to do so is the next step in taking advantage of this local resource.” EDPR is a Madrid-based international solar developer, which is completing a 100 megawatt project in Paulding County. The wind farm will power Amazon’s new data center in central Ohio.

The National Audubon Society:

“Conservative politics and profitable clean energy go hand-in-hand. Governor Kasich gets it and Ohioans owe him a big thanks,” said David Yarnold, Audubon president and CEO.

“Audubon has long supported the reinstatement of Ohio’s clean energy standards,” said Marnie Urso, Audubon’s senior program manager in Ohio. “Energy efficiency and renewable energy are vital components to protecting Ohio’s birds, wildlife and people from the threats of pollution and climate change.”

The Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund:

“I applaud Gov. Kasich for showing true leadership and vetoing this bill. HB 554 is a sloppy piece of legislation that could increase electric bills and clog our air with pollution while hampering innovation and job growth,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, president. “We urge legislators to follow Gov. Kasich’s lead and allow Ohio’s clean energy potential to be unleashed.”

 MOMS Clean Air Force:

“The 40,000 members of Moms Clean Air Force in Ohio are so proud of Governor Kasich for standing by his pledge to veto legislation that stifled clean energy development in our state,” sai Laura Burns, Ohio coordinator,

“We know there is a connection between an investment in clean energy technologies and a reduction in harmful emissions. By vetoing House Bill 554, Gov Kasich has not only demonstrated his commitment to a clean energy economy in Ohio, but he has also ensured that our children will be protected from air pollution. We thank Governor Kasich for his leadership.”

The Environmental Law & Policy Center:

“The governor’s veto today is a positive step towards a clean energy future for Ohio. Ohio needs a balanced energy policy that includes renewable energy and energy efficiency. Business owners in the state’s renewable energy sector and energy efficiency sectors need certainty about Ohio’s direction so they can continue to invest in the state and create jobs,” said Rob Kelter, senior attorney.

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