COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed legislation Tuesday that would have allowed investor-owned utilities to avoid making renewable energy investments for another two years.
The bill would have effectively extended a freeze on renewable-energy standards for the past two years by making them voluntary for 2017 and 2018. If the legislature had not acted, the mandates would have snapped back into place starting next year.
The Ohio General Assembly, lead by lame-duck Republicans in both the House and Senate, defied Kasich's warnings not to send him a bill that extends the freeze but essentially did just that by making the standards voluntary.
In vetoing Substitute House Bill 554, Kasich credited Ohio's "wide range of energy generation options" with helping to grow jobs in the state over the past six years.
"Sub. HB 554 risks undermining this progress by taking away some of those energy generation options, particularly the very options most prized by the companies poised to create many jobs in Ohio in the coming years, such as high technology firms," Kasich stated in a press release.
The legislature passed the bill after hearings that featured dozens of businesses and other renewable energy advocates imploring the legislature not to extend the freeze.
First Solar, a solar-panel manufacturer that employees about 1,200 people south of Toledo, was eyeing the bill closely. A company official told legislators that First Solar is planning an upgrade to its plant and that if the bill passed, the company would have to consider leaving the state.
Hundreds of companies are either involved in the development of wind or solar energy in Ohio or are suppliers to those businesses. The northwest area of Ohio is home to the majority of the wind turbines in the state, but developers there have been worried about the direction Ohio is taking when it comes to renewable energy.
The Blue Creek Wind Farm has its detractors, but it also pays several million dollars a year to landowners, schools and local governments.
Of even greater concern is the more restrictive setback requirements that were imposed in 2014 that restrict how close a turbine can be placed to property, even if unoccupied, that is not part of the development. Sub. HB 554 does not include any language on those requirements.
The legislature first set renewable energy standards in 2008, mandating that investor-owned utilities obtain 25 percent of their energy from advanced energy sources by 2025, with half the energy coming from renewable sources. But in 2014, the legislature, with Kasich's approval, froze the standards for three years.
The Senate voted 18-13 on the bill to extend the freeze, with five Republicans joining the Democrats. One of them, Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite, represents a region of northwest Ohio with a lot of interest in wind development.
"Wind is northwest Ohio's shale," he said during debate on the bill, according to the Toledo Blade. "I've got projects in my district that are on hold because of our freeze."
Kasich's veto, unless it is overridden, will cause the standards to snap back in place at the beginning of 2017.
Legislators mulled various incarnations of the renewable energy legislation, including the elimination of the standards, before settling on the bill that was sent to Kasich.