Green energy advocates warn Ohio lawmakers that renewable freeze will kill business

By John Funk, The Plain Dealer 
on November 30, 2016 at 1:37 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- For the second day in a row, businesses, trade groups and environmentalists lined up outside State House committee hearing rooms to testify against a proposal to make Ohio's green energy mandates voluntary for the next three years.

The mandates requiring power companies to provide an annually increasing percentage of green power were approved by a near-unanimous vote in 2008, but then in 2014 were suspended for two years after months of bitter hearings.

The 2014 legislation included an unusual provision that brings the rules back to life in 2017 unless lawmakers acted again.

That may have been politically palatable at the time, but its impact on business has been a disaster, witness after witness said this morning and Tuesday evening before a Senate committee hearing on Senate Bill 320, a slightly different but parallel proposal. More than 60 testified.

This morning about 40 people, most representing wind and solar businesses, joined a handful of environmental and trade groups to address the House Public Utilities Committee, chaired by Mike Dovilla, a Republican from Berea.

And Dovilla limited their testimony to just three minutes each. Many of the committee members questioned several of the businesses about the accuracy of their claims. And by end of the morning, less than half of the crowd had had a turn at the microphone.

Colin Meehan, director of regulatory and public affairs for Ohio's only solar panel manufacturer, First Solar in Perrysburg, may have said it best.

After a series of questions from lawmakers who seemed to doubt his claims, and even doubt the value of solar technology, Meehan warned that approval of the bill would cause the company to take a hard look at staying in Ohio.

First Solar's research and development labs in Perrysburg spend $100 million a year, he said. The company has employed as many as 1,400, though that is currently at about 1,200.

And the company, which is about to re-tool its plant to build a highly automated production line manufacturing its "next generation" solar panel, needs a consistent policy, one that it can trust "won't be up-ended," Meehan said.

The hearing is expected to continue for a good part of the afternoon as lawmakers rush toward a vote of the full House next week in an effort to put the legislation on Gov. John Kasich's desk.

Kasich has said he would veto any legislation that extends the 2014 freeze. He has not said how he will view the "voluntary" rules. But there has been talk among lawmakers that they will try to override a veto, if it comes.

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