Backers push new Ohio energy efficiency incentive plan

Smart Thermostat.


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Utilities would set a goal of reducing energy waste by 0.5% a year, a far more modest goal than a previous 2% requirement, under legislation aimed at restarting energy efficiency programs, a co-sponsor of the bill testified Wednesday.

The previous 2% mandate would have been too expensive to attain, Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, told the House Public Utilities Committee, a cost he described as a “march up Mandate Mountain.”

Under the bill, Ohio power companies could once again offer energy efficiency programs such as smart thermostats or appliance rebates, with the cost covered by customers. The legislation is aimed at undoing an element of a now-tainted nuclear power plant bailout bill, which eliminated all energy efficiency programs.

The bill has the backing of the Ohio Environmental Council and state investor-owned utilities including AEP, Duke Energy and AES Corp. “They all know the cheapest, cleanest kilowatt of energy is the kilowatt not used at all,” co-sponsor Rep. David Leland, a Columbus Democrat, said Wednesday.

The nuclear plant bailout law approved in 2019 paved the way for a $1 billion ratepayer-funded rescue of Ohio’s two aging nuclear plants. Lawmakers repealed the bailout earlier this year, but left unchanged were provisions that gutted state renewable energy standards and eliminated all energy efficiency programs.

The energy efficiency legislation introduced last month aims to restore some of those programs, but comes with a twist: For the first time, residential customers not interested in participating can opt out of paying their share of the program. In the past, all residential customers paid for an energy efficiency program regardless of whether they took part.

The opt-out would last five years, after which customers would have to again indicate their preference. The participation fee would be capped at $1.50 a month. Customers are automatically included in the program unless they opt out.

Commercial and industrial customers are automatically excluded from participating and would have to choose to opt in under the bill.

Support for the nuclear bailout law began to crumble last year when federal prosecutors charged five individuals, including the former Republican speaker of the Ohio House, with funneling $60 million in energy company money toward an illegal effort to pass the bill. Prosecutors allege the effort also included attempts to kill a proposed referendum to repeal the law.

Earlier this year, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. admitted to using dark money groups to fund the effort, and agreed to pay $230 million in penalties and meet other conditions to avoid prosecution on a federal conspiracy charge.

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