The renew­able ener­gy mar­ket is boom­ing across the Unit­ed States as investors work to meet pri­vate and gov­ern­men­tal cli­mate tar­gets. Ohio built 279 new clean pow­er projects in 2020, which, accord­ing to a recent report by Amer­i­can Clean Pow­er, ranked the state 11th nation­wide for renew­able ener­gy growth.

But two pieces of leg­is­la­tion — Sen­ate Bill 52 and House Bill 201 — passed by the Gen­er­al Assem­bly this sum­mer and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine that take effect in Octo­ber could present an obsta­cle to sig­nif­i­cant new clean ener­gy invest­ment in the state.

SB 52 gives res­i­dents the right to pre­vent the devel­op­ment of util­i­ty-scale solar and wind ener­gy projects with­in their bor­ders. HB 201 pre­vents local gov­ern­ments from lim­it­ing the use of nat­ur­al gas and propane and ensures indi­vid­u­als access to dis­tri­b­u­tion ser­vices or retail nat­ur­al gas services.

Advo­cates of SB 52 draft­ed the bill to allow for local gov­ern­ment con­trol over the ener­gy devel­op­ment reg­u­la­to­ry process, per­mit­ting cities and coun­ties to cre­ate exclu­sion­ary zones where large solar or wind projects are pro­hib­it­ed. The bill estab­lish­es a 90-day peri­od of review not offered pre­vi­ous­ly and requires devel­op­ers to hold pub­lic meet­ings pri­or to an appli­ca­tion hear­ing with the Ohio Pow­er Sit­ing Board. The leg­is­la­tion’s lan­guage also per­mits the addi­tion of two “ad hoc” mem­bers with vot­ing pow­ers to the Pow­er Sit­ing Board to rep­re­sent the inter­ests of area res­i­dents where the wind or solar facil­i­ty is proposed.

Ohio Sen. Matt Dolan, a Repub­li­can from Cha­grin Falls and a mem­ber of the Sen­ate Ener­gy and Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mit­tee, was one of four GOP sen­a­tors who vot­ed against the final ver­sion of SB 52, which had been watered down from the orig­i­nal word­ing at the request of state busi­ness groups. Still, Dolan said he believes SB 52 will erect sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers to poten­tial renew­able ener­gy invest­ment and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment in the state.

What you don’t want is ener­gy treat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly,” Dolan said. “Every­one should be going through the same reg­u­la­tion and with SB 52, it does add an addi­tion­al lay­er, def­i­nite­ly treat­ing solar and wind dif­fer­ent­ly than any oth­er generation.”

At present, wind and solar com­bined rep­re­sent only about 2.1% of the state’s elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion, while nat­ur­al gas com­pris­es 43%, coal makes up 39% and nuclear makes up near­ly 16%. But accord­ing to the U.S. Ener­gy Infor­ma­tion Admin­is­tra­tion, the coun­try is pro­ject­ed to bring 50 gigawatts of solar and wind online in 2021, while liq­ue­fied nat­ur­al gas pro­duc­tion will remain most­ly lev­el. New invest­ment in renew­ables reached a record $174 bil­lion in the first half of 2021, with renew­able ener­gy com­pa­nies rais­ing 509% more invest­ment than in the first six months of 2020, accord­ing to the lat­est Renew­able Ener­gy Invest­ment Track­er from BloombergNEF, an ener­gy indus­try research organization.

Busi­ness groups, such as the Ohio Busi­ness Round­table, the Ohio Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Inde­pen­dent Busi­ness, are con­cerned Ohio’s new law could dis­in­cen­tivize clean ener­gy investment.

We have already heard that inter­na­tion­al com­pa­nies have raised con­cerns over this bill and believe we should be care­ful to not unin­ten­tion­al­ly stunt our state’s future eco­nom­ic growth,” said Michael McLean, the Ohio Busi­ness Round­table’s vice pres­i­dent of pol­i­cy, dur­ing a Sen­ate com­mit­tee hear­ing on SB 52.

Gas and oil sup­port­ers in the Repub­li­can-dom­i­nat­ed Ohio state­house draft­ed HB 201 to pre­vent local gov­ern­ments from enact­ing bans on the use of propane or nat­ur­al gas to curb fos­sil fuels and from cre­at­ing build­ing codes that would pro­hib­it con­nec­tions for that type of ener­gy in new buildings.

Miran­da Lep­pla, vice pres­i­dent of ener­gy pol­i­cy at the Ohio Envi­ron­men­tal Coun­cil Action Fund and an oppo­nent of both bills, nonethe­less com­mis­er­ates with Ohioans who feel that they don’t have enough say in the process and is in favor of adding local voic­es to the Pow­er Sit­ing Board when ener­gy projects are eval­u­at­ed. How­ev­er, under the new Ohio laws, this type of enhanced rep­re­sen­ta­tion will only apply to solar and wind — and not projects involv­ing, say, frack­ing or nuclear power.

There is no con­sis­ten­cy. The laws in the state have sin­gled out only renew­able ener­gy,” Lep­pla said. And that incon­sis­ten­cy, she said, “puts a lot of unknowns on investors” who are inter­est­ed in clean ener­gy projects.

SB 52 was stripped of a pro­vi­sion that would have applied retroac­tive­ly to all wind and solar projects already under­way in the state, includ­ing the high-pro­file Lake Erie off­shore wind project known as Icebreaker.

Ice­break­er, first pro­posed in 2014 by the Lake Erie Ener­gy Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, or LEED­Co, is a six-tur­bine wind­farm project of more than 20 megawatts. The project has had a long and dif­fi­cult path to reg­u­la­to­ry approval. The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral argu­ments in a case relat­ed to Ice­break­er this fall, and a deci­sion will follow.

Lep­pla is con­fi­dent Ice­break­er will get the approval it needs. “I believe this project will go for­ward,” she said.

The sen­ti­ment is echoed by Dave Karpin­s­ki, for­mer LEED­Co pres­i­dent and now a con­sul­tant on the project who works for Boston-based Dia­mond Off­shore Wind. In a state­ment sent to Crain’s, he said, “Ice­break­er is still in a hold­ing pat­tern as we wait on the Ohio Supreme Court to rule on the OPSB deci­sion that allowed the project to pro­ceed. LEED­Co is work­ing in the mean­time to advance the project by plan­ning on mar­ket­ing pur­chase agree­ments for the pow­er. We’re con­fi­dent that the Supreme Court will uphold the decision.”

Mean­while, the pro­posed $1.2 tril­lion bipar­ti­san fed­er­al infra­struc­ture bill, still await­ing approval, allo­cates $73 bil­lion toward pow­er infra­struc­ture, grid and ener­gy gen­er­a­tion, large­ly focused on renew­able and clean energy.

Ener­gy gen­er­a­tion is not always very pop­u­lar, but it’s impor­tant to the entire state, and if we do it right, Ohio can be very impor­tant to the rest of the coun­try,” Dolan said.