State representative Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) has co-sponsored a bill that he says “looks at Ohio’s energy future by investing in clean energy.” But in separate news release, opponents of the legislation described it as an energy bill “disguised as a nuclear plant bailout.”
According to a statement from Wilkin’s office in Columbus, he and fellow representative Jamie Callender (R-Concord Township) introduced House Bill 6 on April 12 creating the Ohio Clean Air Program (OCAP), with the intention of offering an alternative way to encourage cleaner energy production in Ohio, such as the construction of the two solar panel farms proposed for southern Highland County.
As previously reported, the siting permit for the 150-megawatt Willowbrook solar panel farm was granted April 4 and approval of the siting permit for the larger 300 mega-watt Hecate facility is expected in the next few weeks.
If final approval is given by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, construction on both solar panel farms could begin in late 2020.
In statements made Tuesday before the Ohio House Energy and Natural Resources Committee and to The Times-Gazette, Wilkin described the proposal as an economic development bill that will enable Ohio to go from an importer of energy to generating its own.
“Based on my experience as a Highland County commissioner who was heavily involved in economic development, I look at this as an incentive tool to have power generation plants built here in Ohio,” Wilkin said. “It will give some security and stability to business and individuals with the reductions in their bills that most will see.”
His co-sponsor on the bill, Rep. Callender, told the committee that based on letters received at his office, opposition opinions were formed before the bill was released, saying that “if they read it now I’m sure they would find it far more palatable than they first anticipated.”
Wilkin said that Ohio’s residential, commercial and industrial energy customers, through mandates on their bills, pay monthly charges for renewable and energy efficiency/peak demand services and that would be replaced with the new OCAP program.
Opponents of the measure are quick to point out that all Ohioans would be charged $2.50 on their utility bill, ostensibly to bailout the bankrupt Davis Besse and Perry nuclear power stations.
However, Wilkin said that the average residential customer currently pays roughly $4.39 monthly in mandates, while his proposal reduces that charge to $2.50, a savings to Ohio household electric consumers of $1.89 a month on their utility bill under the new program.
“The savings in this bill is even greater for commercial and industrial customers,” he said. “Your light and heavy industrial users, which are typically your bigger job creators, will realize substantial savings that they can hopefully put back into their business for expansion.”
Dan Sawmiller, Ohio Energy Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Columbus, said he had great reservations about the new legislation in its current form, again calling it nothing more than a way to provide financial support of a pair of struggling nuclear power plants on the shores of Lake Erie.
“They’re creating this clean air program that would collect a fixed amount of money each month from customers in Ohio,” he said. “And a large portion of those funds will be funneled to those facilities to keep them around for their ‘carbon-free attributes.’”
He said the bill repeals the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires a certain percentage of electricity sold in Ohio must come from renewable sources, and in repealing the RPS, the state can use generated funding from the bill to bailout the bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions nuclear plants, with almost half of the $300 million expected to be generated annually by the legislation going directly to those nuclear facilities.
Wilkin disagreed, but said that the bill does give incentives to Ohio energy production facilities like nuclear plants, which don’t produce carbon emissions.
“It’ll be available to anybody that is producing clean energy, be it wind, solar or nuclear,” he said. “The other aspect of this bill is if the utility is a carbon emitter and they take steps to reduce it, they’ll be eligible for some of those incentives as well.”
Sawmiller said that while he has concerns about the bill in its present form, he is reassured by Wilkin’s openness to engage in discussion and debate about the merits of it.
“In his sponsor testimony, he signaled publicly a willingness and openness to discuss it, and he’s been that way with me in our meetings as well,” Sawmiller said. “It’s the intent behind the bill that I’m the most interested in, and I do think the intent is to provide support for in-state renewable power generation, and we just need to have a conversation about what the right policy is to accomplish that.”
According to the Reuters news service, last year 47 percent of Ohio’s electrical needs came from coal, while 34 percent came from natural gas, nuclear power supplied 15 percent, with only 3 percent coming from renewables and 1 percent from other sources.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.