To lower your bill, reduce your use

Ohio legislators have hit the pause button on a 2008 law meant to decrease energy use and increase use of alternative sources to generate electricity.

But consumers shouldn’t expect the two-year delay to lower their electric bills.

The seven-year-old law required Ohio utilities to produce 12.5 percent of energy from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and captured heat, and 12.5 percent from advanced sources, such as clean coal, by 2025. Meanwhile, the measure compelled the companies to help customers reduce electricity use 22 percent by 2025.

The new legislation pauses those increases in renewables and efficiency for two years, and weakens the standards when they come back into effect in 2017. The original plan called for a 5.5 percent increase in renewables by 2017, while the revised measure lowers that to a 3.5 percent increase.

The original law was meant to reduce carbon emissions while lowering electricity bills. However, Ashley Brown – a former state utility regulator who now leads the Harvard Electricity Policy Group – says those goals can be mutually exclusive.

When electricity costs less, people use more. Thus, cheaper electricity from coal-powered plants leads to those plants burning more coal. But when renewable-energy mandates also raise the cost of carbon-emitting plants, consumers pay more for electricity.

Plus, the cost of switching to alternative energy sources can be a drag on the economy. But fossil fuels have an environmental cost whose economic impact is less apparent.

Of course, the original mandate – and the delay – can alter the renewable energy industry in Ohio. Fewer sales would mean fewer jobs. And the measure passed Wednesday eliminates a requirement that at least half of Ohio’s renewable energy must come from within the state.

Again, the pause button is not an off switch for higher electric bills. Ohioans will have to find ways to reduce their electric costs on their own.