December 04, 2020
Ohio needs laws and regulators that support renewable energy
ELPC has been fighting corruption in the Ohio regulatory boards and major utilities in the state because we know that clean energy requires clean government. We are working to get HB6 fully repealed and have the state legislature come back with a bill that stops the nuclear plant bailout and restores efficiency and renewable energy funding.
The news regarding FirstEnergy Corp. gets worse by the day. First, we find out the company funneled $60 million to former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder as part of a corrupt scheme to bail out nuclear plants. Then FirstEnergy, buried in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, disclosed that it paid former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chairman Sam Randazzo $4 million at the end of a consulting contract right around the time Governor Mike DeWine appointed him Chairman of the Commission.
ELPC has since filed a motion to invalidate all orders by made Ohio’s Public Utility Commission during Chairman Sam Randazzo’s tenure.
We are also taking action to insist that new legislation fully repeals HB6 while bringin back energy efficiency and renewable energy.
The most important question now is how does Ohio move forward and correct some of the residual effects of the scandals?
First, Gov. DeWine needs to appoint a new PUCO Chairman with an ethical record beyond reproach who also appreciates the value of clean energy. The PUCO Nominating Council should recommend individuals of high ethical standards who have no bias or conflict of interest in the cases they will be asked to review. Second, the legislature needs to repeal HB 6, the legislation that FirstEnergy and Householder tried to influence, and put clean energy back into the mix of any new legislation.
When DeWine appointed Randazzo chairman, everyone knew we were getting a staunch opponent of energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Environmental Law & Policy Center and all other parties involved at both the PUCO and state legislature knew where Randazzo stood on these issues because he was an aggressive and powerful voice opposing those energy solutions for the last three decades.
Everyone gets cleaner air when we generate large percentages of electricity from renewable energy and when you reduce overall usage through efficiency.
The governor’s philosophy was the PUCO and the legislature should leave the markets alone — if clean energy can compete, then consumers will choose to pay for it. While that makes for a good sound bite, it doesn’t take into account a couple important factors. First, when we price electricity, we don’t include the environmental costs and benefits in the equation. Electricity from coal plants causes pollution that has clean-up costs and negative health effects that don’t get incorporated into the price. Solar and wind don’t have those costs, so we use public policy to level the playing field.
Second, while it sounds good to just let some people pay more for clean renewable energy if they choose to do so, the benefits of clean energy are societal — they don’t go solely to the customer who opts to pay more.
Everyone gets cleaner air when we generate large percentages of electricity from renewable energy and when you reduce overall usage through efficiency. Hence, everyone should pay just a little more and all utility customers get the benefits.
The correction here is straightforward. HB 6 bailed out nuclear and coal plants, but also eliminated utility energy efficiency programs and almost completely erased renewable energy requirements for utilities. Whatever the state decides to do about bailing out power plants — and we hope it will rethink those bailouts — it needs to get back to a balanced approach that includes energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Not only is that the right thing to do for the environment, but as President-elect Biden moves the country back into the Paris Climate Agreement, Ohio’s requirements to reduce emissions will be even more expensive if it doesn’t do more for efficiency and renewables in the short term.
Gov. DeWine should get started by appointing a new PUCO Chair who supports clean energy and by insisting that new legislation brings back energy efficiency and renewable energy.
*This Op-Ed originally ran in the Columbus Dispatch.