Clean-energy standards would become optional for the next two years under a bill that passed the Ohio Senate late Thursday night and then passed the House early this morning. That sends it Gov. John Kasich, who has hinted that he will veto it.
The Senate made last-minute changes before approving House Bill 554, hoping to overcome Kasich's concerns.
"We can incentivize a clean-energy future without having the heavy hand of government mandate it," said Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, during the floor debate.
The Senate voted 18-13 for the bill and sent it to the House for approval of the Senate changes. Hours later, the House voted 55-34.
Energy standards would be optional for two years instead of the three years proposed in prior versions. After two years, the rules would again become mandates.
The bill deals with Ohio rules that say electricity utilities must meet annual standards for investing in renewable energy and for helping customers reduce energy use. The standards have been in place since 2008, interrupted by a soon-to-expire two-year freeze.
Critics say that optional standards are essentially the same as no standards and would be bad for the environment and economy.
"What this is really about is sending a message that Ohio is a state welcoming investment" in clean energy, said Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville.
Opponents circulated a list of more than 130 businesses and organizations that oppose the bill. It includes companies that make renewable-energy components, consumer advocates and environmentalists.
Supporters of the proposal say the standards are too costly and lead to higher electricity costs, especially for large businesses. The bill includes an opt-out that businesses could use to avoid paying any costs related to the rules.
Although most Republicans voted for the bill, some did not, which is one reason that the measure does not appear to have enough support to override a potential veto. Among the opponents were Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, and Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington.
"My district's the little guy," said Hite, who represents a part of the state that has hundreds of wind farms. He said optional standards wouldn't work, for the same reason that good coaches don't have optional practices.
Duffey urged his colleagues to vote against the bill because of the danger that constant changes in energy policy are discouraging investment. "Businesses want certainty," Duffey said Tuesday . "If they're going to invest in Ohio, the need to know the rules of the road."
This is the latest episode in a debate that has gone on for about five years. Various proposals have sought to repeal or reduce the clean-energy requirements. Although Kasich signed the freeze, he has said he would like to see the rules resume.
Last week, he said Ohio runs the risk of sending the wrong message about its openness to wind, solar and other renewable-energy technologies.
But he has not said whether he would sign or veto the version of the bill that is expected to reach his desk. On Thursday , Kasich spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach said the governor's office would closely examine the bill.
Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, said, "The bill that we are giving to the (Kasich) administration, I think, is much better than the original bill we put out. That shows our consensus to try to adjust the bill and make it more favorable for him not to veto it."