With public support growing for energy efficiency in Ohio, FirstEnergy and its allies are again trying to take their case behind closed doors.

Last week, State Senator Bill Seitz offered an unusual amendment for inclusion in the state budget bill: a provision that stated that if, hypothetically, a new law related to energy efficiency were to be passed later this summer (I wonder who would introduce it?), then the budget bill would retroactively require the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to renegotiate the terms of energy efficiency with Ohio’s utilities, including FirstEnergy, giving them an opportunity to get terms more to their liking.

In other words, Sen. Seitz is greasing the skids for yet another tired attempt to derail Ohio’s energy efficiency programs, which now seems to be an annual event.

Almost 10,000 Ohioans work in the growing field of energy efficiency, at 400 businesses around the state. These are men and women doing good work upgrading our lighting and heating systems, manufacturing more efficient appliances, and generally working to save all of us money on our electricity bills. While Ohio’s energy efficiency standard has been popular and effective, the industry’s job growth has been threatened by the uncertainty brought on by special-interest political attacks and irregular legislative tactics like those currently being attempted by Sen. Seitz.

A study released earlier this month by Ohio State University found that since Ohio passed its energy efficiency standards in 2008, 3,200 jobs have been created and customers have saved a whopping $170 million on their bills, with charges for electricity coming in 1.4% lower than they would have otherwise. Other recent projections show the programs are on track to save more $5 billion by 2020. It is for these economic reasons that the Ohio Manufacturers Association and others have come out in support of energy efficiency in recent months.

Much to the chagrin of those who oppose energy efficiency, the energy savings continue to add up – Ohio’s annual wholesale electricity auction, which helps determine how much customers and businesses pay for power, closed last week with prices falling more than 50% from last year’s auction result in FirstEnergy’s service territory. One significant factor: the fact that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio required FirstEnergy to offer energy efficiency into the auction this year, which helped apply downward pressure on prices. FirstEnergy was not happy about the opportunity to offer lower prices to its customers: “Obviously, we are disappointed in the results,” their spokesperson said immediately after the auction.

FirstEnergy has shown time and again that it does not like it when its customers are able to buy less of its product at a lower price, which is the essence of energy efficiency. Their old-school thinking sees energy efficiency as a threat to their bottom line, even as more adaptive utilities have found ways to make energy efficiency work for them. We don’t begrudge FirstEnergy for their business, but the people of Ohio, and the millions of homes and businesses benefitting from new jobs and lower electricity prices from energy efficiency, should expect their leaders to be held to a higher standard.

Dan Sawmiller
Senior Campaign Representative for Ohio
Sierra Club, Beyond Coal Campaign