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Wide-ranging state budget bill changes energy policy in Ohio

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signs Senate Bill 7 into law at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Jan. 27, 2020. The bill mandates Ohio agencies to issue licenses or certificates to qualifying military members and their spouses.
Wesley Farnsworth
/
U.S. Air Force
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signs Senate Bill 7 into law at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Jan. 27, 2020. The bill mandates Ohio agencies to issue licenses or certificates to qualifying military members and their spouses.

The state budget bill signed by Governor DeWine earlier this month included a lot of changes to energy policy. WYSO spoke with the Energy News Network's Kathiann Kowalski, who has been following the budget bill in her reporting, to find out how those policy changes might affect everyday Ohioans.

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity)

Kathiann Kowalski: Ohio adopts a two year budget bill. It has grown over the course of the last couple of years to get bigger and bigger and include a wide range of topics. In this most recent one, we have provisions that deal with hydrogen, that deal with pilot programs which are important for solar power, and we also saw provisions for speculative infrastructure development.

Chris Welter: What are hydrogen hubs and what role do you see them playing in the state of Ohio moving forward?

Kathiann: Hydrogen hubs collect hydrogen from a source and then distribute them to users. What the budget bill does is authorize some recovery for gas company infrastructure costs to connect to those hubs, or for the equipment that enables those connections.

That recovery becomes important when you consider that there are some proposals out there not just to use hydrogen for fuel cell applications, but also perhaps to blend it with natural gas and supply it through infrastructure to pipes and customers.

Chris: Talk to me a little bit about this PILOT program that was extended in the budget, why is it important for some renewable energy projects?

Kathiann: The PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) program lets an energy developer go into an area and basically work out deals and programs that address what communities most want to see in return for having an energy project cited in this area. So instead of just paying straight property taxes, there would be amounts that would be going to different entities within an area. So some amount might go to school districts, some amount might go to counties, some of that might go to townships. There's a lot more flexibility in terms of how the money gets used.

Chris: The Ohio Nuclear Development Authority, I know this is something that's been talked about in Ohio for a long time. What does this budget bill do in regards to that?

Kathiann: There is a new Ohio Nuclear Development Authority that will be set up, and it is supposed to promote nuclear energy and research in the field. It would particularly be for what's known as small nuclear generation, so generally much smaller plants than the Davis-Besse or the Perry power plants up on Lake Erie.

The terms that are adopted in the bill are somewhat scaled back from what had been attempted in a House amendment. Representative Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) had been trying to get something like this passed in each of the last three general assemblies. So basically what we'll have now is something that will be promoting research and development of these things, but won't have quite as much authority as there would have been under the initial version.

Chris: The other thing that stood out to me from your reporting on the budget bill is that utilities' ability to charge for speculative infrastructure development was slashed by Governor DeWine at the last second. Can you talk a little bit more about what that means for utilities?

Kathiann: What the cut of the provisions mean is the utilities can't just go out there and say “we'll enter into a speculative development deal that people don't necessarily get to see the details of, and we'll build up this site and we'll just charge ratepayers who are already on the system for paying for those costs.”

So that's generally viewed by the Consumers’ Counsel, and I imagine the Ohio Manufacturing Association is also very happy because they were both strongly against those provisions.

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Chris Welter is the Managing Editor at The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Chris got his start in radio in 2017 when he completed a six-month training at the Center for Community Voices. Most recently, he worked as a substitute host and the Environment Reporter at WYSO.