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Regulator: Costs to utilities of Ohio energy-efficiency programs difficult to measure

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio's top utility regulator provided sparse details on Monday to a new legislative panel studying the economic impact of state renewable energy mandates that have been paused for two years.

Tom Johnson, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, told the Energy Mandates Study Committee that much of what they hoped to learn was protected for proprietary or other legal reasons.

The committee was created earlier this year as part of legislation that paused state alternative-energy mandates in a compromise struck by Gov. John Kasich and proponents of repealing them altogether.

State Sen. Troy Balderson, a Zanesville Republican and committee co-chair, said the panel may be meeting during the lame duck session, but it does not intend to wrap up its work by year's end. He said lawmakers are focused on gathering information.

"The goal of this committee is to get some answers. It's not to repeal anything," he said.

Co-chair state Rep. Peter Stautberg, a Cincinnati Republican, anticipated another hearing or two may be held in December.

Johnson, a former state lawmaker and budget director, provided brief testimony in a presentation that many observers — including legislators and lobbyists — had expected to be rich with detail. He opted to address only how much has been paid by Ohio utilities to the third-party administrators that help meet energy efficiency and education targets, and then gave information on only two companies.

Johnson said the chair asked him to stick to the single issue, though that matter seemed to be in dispute.

He reported that Akron-based FirstEnergy has paid $5.5 million to third-party administrators in the past five years, reducing energy use by 507 million kilowatt hours. Columbus-based American Electric Power paid about $845,000 over to deliver an annual savings of 328 million kilowatt-hours of power.

The Public Utilities Commission calculated FirstEnergy's costs at 1.1 cents per kilowatt-hour, and AEP's at a quarter of a cent per kilowatt-hour. Johnson said details for other Ohio-based utilities weren't available, and he couldn't immediately provide additional information requested by lawmakers on how the figures related to overall costs of the program nor how the savings is divvied up among power companies, third-party groups and consumers.

A kilowatt-hour of power in Ohio costs between 8 cents and 10 cents to produce, on average.

Lawmakers peppered Johnson with requests for more detail on the impacts the energy mandates have had on jobs and utilities' bottom lines — which opponents anticipate will show negative consequences. Johnson said much of the information they seek is protected, but he would do what he could and return another day.

The Ohio Environmental Council's Jack Shaner, whose organization backs the mandates, said he was heartened that lawmakers requested further information on jobs and energy efficiency impacts of the mandates — "because we win on those issues," he said.

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