Ohio’s Advanced Energy Fund would continue another three years under legislation that cleared a split House committee Tuesday, but the program’s future remains uncertain as the two-year session nears an end.
The measure, HB 301, passed the House Alternative Energy Committee on an 11-6 tally, setting it for a likely House vote next week.
Sponsor Rep. Mike Foley (D-Cleveland) won support for an amendment that scales back the length of the program; sets the stage for declining value grants; and directs consultation between the director of development and the Public Benefits Advisory Board on grant awards.
He said the change was offered in recognition of “political realities.”
Funding for the program – which ends at the conclusion of 2010 – would continue to be generated by a 9 cent-per-month rider on electric bills.
Mr. Foley said Sen. Chris Widener (R-Springfield), chair of the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee, had requested a copy of the amendment, but acknowledged he wasn’t certain how the measure might play in the Senate.
“I’m not going to guarantee obviously that this is going to have any legs when it gets over there,” he said. “This is a jobs bill. This helps Ohio industries that are doing this work.”
Six of the committee’s Republicans – Reps. Jarrod Martin of Beavercreek, Ron Amstutz of Wooster, Lou Blessing of Cincinnati, Bruce Goodwin of Defiance, Ron Maag of Lebanon and Todd Snitchler of Uniontown – voted against the bill. GOP Reps. Jay Hottinger of Newark and Clyde Evans of Rio Grande voted with majority Democrats in support.
Before the vote, three witnesses urged the panel to act on the bill.
Terrence O’Donnell of Ohio Advanced Energy said the “fairly modest” charge plays a key role in helping spur the state’s alternative energy industry, adding that the fund fits well with the renewable portfolio standard.
He told the panel that a number of companies are waiting for funding, and said the support will help the firms hire workers and create new products and technologies.
Stephen Melink of Cincinnati’s Melink Corporation, said Ohio is well-positioned to be a leader in new energy technologies, but warned that failing to renew the fund would help other states get a better foothold.
Mr. Melink said Ohio is particularly advanced in the solar field, saying Toledo is becoming known as the Silicon Valley of the solar and photovoltaic industry.
David Mallie, president of The EDC Group, said his firm has seen an increase in the number of people pursuing renewable energy options to help control energy and fuel costs. “If the Advanced Energy Fund is now renewed, it will cost Ohio a tremendous amount of job loss when job creation is one of our biggest goals,” he said, adding that the jobs of at least hundreds of people hang in the balance.