COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — At the heart of lawmakers' decision to revisit the state's renewable-energy standard is a fundamental disagreement over two goals: reducing carbon emissions and lowering electricity bills.
For average residents, it may sound good to achieve both. But former state utility regulator Ashley Brown, executive director of the Harvard Electricity Policy Group, says that's hardly possible.
A bill pausing Ohio's 7-year-old energy efficiency goals and its renewable-energy targets for solar, wind and other renewable sources for two years cleared the state Legislature on Wednesday. It was sent to Republican Gov. John Kasich for his expected signature.
Ohio's renewable goals were touted for their ability to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, such as coal.
Opponents of the targets in the Republican-led Legislature say they're driving up electricity costs by imposing costly government mandates on utility companies.
Brown called the competing goals of reduced pollution and lower electric prices "mutually exclusive." When electricity is cheaper, people use more. That increases demand — and carbon-based pollution — from coal-fired power plants. When emitting carbon becomes more expensive, in conjunction with renewable-energy mandates or otherwise, electricity costs rise.
"If you're an environmentalist, high electric rates are a good thing — they discourage energy use," said Brown, a former member of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. "That's why, for consumer advocates (seeking to reduce bills) and environmentalists, it's almost impossible to make common cause — because their agendas are separate."
At the same time, the impact of renewables on the electricity market has been "really bizarre" and sometimes counterintuitive, Brown said.
In Germany, for example, carbon emissions soared after renewable standards were put in place, he said. Factors can vary, but he said one reason that can happen is that utilities increasingly reliant on unpredictable supplies of solar or wind energy are forced to operate their aging coal plants in constant anticipation of peak demand.