Hite pushes back as lawmakers vote to keep clean energy freeze


By Tom Henry - The Toledo Blade



COLUMBUS — Ohio’s energy future is back in Gov. John Kasich’s hands now that both Ohio General Assembly chambers passed a bill this week that calls for compliance with the state’s clean energy standards to be voluntary for another two years.

Just as he was two years ago, when Ohio became the nation’s first and only state to impose a freeze on renewable-energy mandates for public utilities, Kasich holds the key — and, unlike 2014, has vowed to let the freeze expire this month.

Those who support the mandates, though, remain uneasy because Kasich also has left open the possibility of reworking the existing law. Renewable energy advocates wonder if that is just a crafty way of effectively keeping the freeze in effect.

The bill going to the governor calls for an extension of two years instead of three as proposed in earlier versions.

Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said during a lengthy and impassioned presentation Thursday before the Ohio Senate the mandates — which require utilities to invest in or get at least 12.5 percent of their power from renewable energy by 2027 — are based on socialistic principles and are detrimental to Ohio businesses.

He cited the Ohio Business Roundtable and several major corporations — several in steel and oil — as supporters of a continued freeze, mocking Napoleon-based Campbell Soup Co. for supporting an end to it.

“We are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” Seitz said, referring to the gas-rich Marcellus and Utica shale regions of southern and eastern Ohio. “We’re not that good of a state for wind and solar. We’re really not.”

Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, whose district includes Hancock, Defiance, Hardin, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert, Williams, and other rural areas of northwest Ohio where several major wind projects have been built, defended Campbell’s support for renewables and said there are numerous other business, including 135 in his district alone, that want the freeze abolished.

“Wind is northwest Ohio’s shale,” Hite said. “I’ve got projects in my district that are on hold because of our freeze. I thought we were ‘open for business.’ It sounds like to me we’re not opening the door, we’re shutting the door.”

Voluntary compliance, Hite said, would be akin to Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer telling his players that practice is voluntary. He said firm mandates — much like required football practices — force businesses to be sharper and more innovative in order to win.

The bill will likely take days to appear on Kasich’s desk. The administration is not expected to comment until then.

Several northwest Ohio officials responded against the proposed extension, including Jason Slatterly, solar director of Walbridge-based Rudolph Libbe Group’s GEM Energy.

Rudolph Libbe’s solar business continues to grow, but outside of Ohio in neighboring states of New York, Michigan, and Indiana, he said.

“Globally, changing the rule book sends a bad message. It makes it harder to make these large capital projects happen,” Slatterly said. “It just sends a negative message. There’s still an uneasiness in the investment community.”

Rudolph Libbe and Campbell are among 133 businesses, organizations, foundations, government entities, and other groups that have come out in favor of letting the freeze expire this month.

Others in northwest Ohio include First Solar, Whirlpool Corp., the Fulton County Economic Development Corp., Owens Corning, the Paulding County Economic Development Corp., the Putnam County Community Improvement Corp., and chambers of commerce in Paulding County, Toledo, the Anthony Wayne region, the village Holland and Springfield Township, and the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

In addition to Hite, Ohio Sen. Edna Brown, D-Toledo, and Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, voted in favor of letting the freeze expire, while Ohio Sen. Dave Burke, R-Marysville, voted for another two years of voluntary compliance.

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By Tom Henry

The Toledo Blade

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