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.
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.