A proposal that critics say would weaken the clean-energy standards has won approval from an Ohio House panel, but Gov. John Kasich said the measure may send the wrong message about the state.
However, he stopped short of saying whether he would veto the bill.
House Bill 554 was voted out of the House Public Utilities Committee today. It is heading to the House floor for debate early next week, sponsors said. There would be just a few days to pass the House and Senate in order to reach the governor's desk before the end of legislative session.
"I just would hope the legislature will not have a headline that Ohio went backward on the environment," Kasich said today, in response to a reporter's question. "I just don't want to see that."
He said that several major companies looking to locate in Ohio have said they want to support renewable energy, and want to do business in states that embrace clean-energy technologies.
But he did not make a clear veto threat.
"Let's let them work it out, and, you know, I'll work with them," he said about the legislature, adding that he doesn't want to "put some hammer down at this point."
In a 12-5 vote, the committee recommended a plan that, among other things, would make optional the state's renewable-energy standards for the next three years. The standards, in place since 2008, say utilities must meet annual benchmarks for renewable energy and for helping customers reduce energy use.
"What we're doing here is not an overhaul," said Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, the bill's main sponsor. "It's a tune-up."
After three years, the renewable-energy rules would again become requirements.
The proposal has implications for the state's utilities and for companies that make and install wind turbines and solar panels. It also affects consumers of major utilities, who have charges embedded in their bills to cover costs of the energy programs, which add up to about $6 per month for a typical household in central Ohio.
For the governor's part, in 2014, Kasich signed a two-year freeze in the standards, but has said recently that he would like to see the freeze lifted. That is set to occur at the end of the year.
Amstutz said the governor's aides "haven't threatened anything lately" regarding a veto.
If there is a veto, lawmakers would need to consider whether to try to override the action of a governor of the same party.
Prior the vote today, the House panel heard hours of testimony, mostly from people who oppose the plan.
"I don't want to have to move to China to be on the forefront of (the clean-energy) industry," said Evan Vogelbaum, a high school student from the Cleveland area. "My mother would really miss me. So please, for me, for my generation, and for the Ohioans who will benefit from investment in renewable energy, please stop this bill."
The debate is a familiar one in Ohio, with advocates for renewable energy clashing with lawmakers who oppose the idea of requiring investments wind energy and solar energy. This is tied into the belief of many elected officials that state and federal rules have hurt the coal economy while subsidizing other power sources.
"In eastern Ohio, coal is king," said Rep. Brian Hill, R-Zanesville.