Rep. Householder gone, changes to Ohio’s energy law still draining consumers’ pockets

Removing Larry Householder from the Ohio House of Representatives is a cynical gesture when most of the damage done by the 2019 House Bill 6 is still in place.

Fining the FirstEnergy Company in Akron, which has changed its name to Energy Harbor, is appropriate, but it doesn’t address the harm done by HB 6. The measure, which made several changes to Ohio’s energy law, watered down renewable energy standards that had been in place for a decade.

To make the bill confusing, Ohio Republicans used it as a vehicle to expand their war on clean energy. This is a serious blow to Ohio’s economy, and must be addressed sooner rather than later.

The efficiency standards passed in 2008 cost $1.9 billion in total from 2009 to 2019. Savings from these programs were well over $12 billion. Homeowners may have noticed the increase in prices for LED lightbulbs, but they probably don’t realize that energy efficient refrigerators, air conditioners, heat pumps, and all the lighting we see in commercial buildings now costs about 25% more. In short, Ohio Republicans have made Ohio a dumping ground for the least efficient appliances, motors and other products.

It is clear that a few Republican leaders take pleasure in pretending to know that efficiency and renewables are bad. The renewables story needs another article — at least, but HB 6 dropped about $3.5 billion in private investment in Ohio’s rural areas in its tracks.

Efficiency needs more respect than it gets. Ohio programs were capped by misguided consumer advocates who didn’t understand that the original law mandated that the programs save more money than they cost. It is irrational to stop spending when it saves so much more. Because we can’t customize the efficiency of devices, there was a larger saving than would have been necessary for program approval. The programs saved an average of $6.50 per dollar spent.

This resulted in about $900 million in savings per year, but the cumulative effect of multiple years was larger. The original law didn’t affect 12% of Ohio’s electricity, sold by public power entities. But the fact that the regulated utilities had the programs made it cheap and easy for the public power utilities to opt-in — no expense to regulated customers, just a small fee to a provider who was in the area anyways.

Sixty percent of all savings over the 11 years before HB 6 were acquired by commercial lighting. When supermarkets and hospitals have efficient lighting, the public benefits.

Ohio ranked 18th in the U.S. in 2014 for efficiency, but hovered around 25th or 26th for most of the 11 years. Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania all have similar programs. New York has the fifth or sixth best programs in the U.S.

Now Ohio ranks somewhere around Alabama and Georgia for last place. Even Kentucky and West Virginia are ahead of Ohio.

Ohio spends a little more than $14 billion per year on electricity. The programs raise rates by a little more 1%, and produce savings of more than 6%. Over more than a decade, more than 90% of Ohio’s electric customers participated directly in the programs, and the ones who didn’t enjoyed lower costs anyways, because the saved energy is always the most expensive possible generation. This was required by the original law.

Every month Ohio loses more ground compared to other states and other nations due to HB 6, because we buy more electricity than we need. Republicans were told this by many of the hundreds of witnesses who testified against the bill.

Each industry affected by HB 6 should have its own hearings. The circus environment during the hearings was conducive to corruption. Terrible decisions were made in the presence of good information. There was just enough chaos to make it hard for the public to tell what was going on. Republicans need to correct that, or admit that they aren’t concerned with Ohio’s best interests.

Ned Ford is an energy expert from Waynesville.

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