New Ohio law tackles broad sweep of energy measures

On June 11, Ohio governor John Kasich signed a new energy law that establishes one of the United States’ strictest regulatory frameworks for new natural gas drilling technologies. The law, S.B. 315, also makes cogeneration an eligible option for meeting the state’s target of 12.5 percent renewable energy generation by 2025. Other measures address smart grids and electricity pricing, natural gas vehicles, alternative fuel loans, and green building standards for state-owned buildings. 

New Regulations for Natural Gas Drilling

Eastern Ohio’s deep shale formations may be among the largest natural gas reservoirs in the U.S., and the new law will regulate the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) necessary to explore these resources. Fracking, in particular, raises concerns for its use of industrial chemicals and potential impacts on water quality.

S.B. 315 addresses those concerns with requirements for the disclosure of chemicals and additives used in all stages of the drilling and fracking process. It also requires developers to conduct tests of water wells in the vicinity before drilling a new horizontal well or any well in an urbanized area. Developers must also identify in their permit applications all water sources that will be used for drilling. 

Supported by the oil and gas industry, the law has met with criticism from environmental groups, since companies can avoid disclosing chemicals by claiming them as proprietary trade secrets. Other objections are that operators do not have to disclose chemicals until up to sixty days after the completion of drilling, and the lack of public commenting throughout the permit application process.

Cogeneration to Qualify as Renewable Energy

The new energy law reclassifies cogeneration as a renewable energy technology under Ohio’s alternative energy portfolio standard (AEPS). The portfolio standard, which governs the state’s electricity generation mix, includes separate targets of 12.5 percent each for both renewable (such as wind and solar) and advanced energy (such as clean coal or nuclear) generation by 2025. Previously, cogeneration counted toward the advanced energy target, but because the advanced energy standard lacks interim targets, electric utilities made little progress in developing new cogeneration projects.

To encourage faster development, S.B. 315 revises the AEPS to allow certain kinds of cogeneration to count toward the renewable energy standard, which does have yearly interim targets. Specifically, utilities can use electricity generated from waste energy recovery (WER) systems to fulfill either the renewable target or a separate energy efficiency standard, but not both. Under the new definition, Ohio is the only state to classify electricity generation from waste heat as a renewable energy source.

Critics worry that including WER systems under the renewable energy standard will undermine the development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar in Ohio. Wind developers argue that the incremental targets are not ambitious enough to provide room for both renewables and WER systems, and may damage the prospects of several wind energy projects that are already underway.

Other Clean Energy Measures: Transportation, Grid, and Buildings

Finally, the new law includes several other clean energy measures, such as one supporting the wider adoption of natural gas vehicles. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) will conduct a study on the cost-effectiveness of compressed natural gas vehicles, including the conversion of the state’s fleet to run on natural gas. The law also authorizes ODOT to work with other states on a regional study of the development of compressed natural gas infrastructure for transportation.

In addition, the law authorizes PUCO to undertake several electricity-related initiatives. The commission will periodically review any green pricing programs offered by utilities. It will also undertake a study on how increased energy efficiency, demand response, generation, transmission, and emerging technologies can increase opportunities for consumer choice. In addition, PUCO will review the electricity distribution and transmission infrastructure and evaluate the need for improvements, additions, and upgrades.

S.B. 315 also updates and expands several green-building codes for state-owned buildings. The law requires that cogeneration be considered as a potential energy source as part of the lifecycle cost analysis for state-funded facility projects with a construction cost of $50 million or more. The new law also expands the definition of energy conservation measures to include tri-generation systems (which produce electricity and both heat and cooling), renewable energy systems producing electricity for the building, and the optimization of computer servers, data storage devices, and other information technology infrastructure.

For more information:

Renewable and Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards

Climate Techbook: Cogeneration / Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

Climate Techbook: Natural Gas

Ohio General Assembly: S.B. 315 Senate Bill 315 – Improving Regulatory Framework

Bricker & Eckler LLP: Ohio Senate Bill 315: A Summary of Governor Kasich’s Energy Bill

Midwest Energy News: Ohio could pit cogeneration against wind farms