State Submetering and Utility Battles Continue

Ohio Statehouse battles to address critical utility as well as submetering issues has landed at half-time as the Ohio General Assembly resolved some but not all of these matters through the adoption of the state of Ohio operating budget.

Ohio Senate Bill 123 would address the current battle between the state’s investor-owned electric utilities, primarily driven by American Electric Power, and several companies in the submetering industry.  Traditionally, submetering companies do not buy, build or sell for a profit utility service but have contracts with residential and commercial landlords to monitor, bill and collect for tenant utility usage and charge an administrative fee based upon the extent of services provided. However, two Columbus based real estate developers had entered the submetering business, and, going against industry practice, charged above the actual cost for utility services.  SB 123, sponsored by Senator Andy Brenner (R-Delaware) states that submetering companies – those that purchase service from utilities to resell to residents at higher rates – are not public utilities, thereby exempting them from Public Utilities Commission of Ohio ‘s jurisdiction.  Efforts to include SB 123 into the state of Ohio operating budget but hearings and debate on this legislation are likely to continue.

Other lobbying efforts by Ohio utilities proved successful in the state of Ohio operating budget.  The natural gas utility industry successfully sought legislative language that expands the definition of “infrastructure development” which can be recovered from customers under an infrastructure development rider. It also increases the monthly recovery amount from any single customer to $3 among other changes. A Legislative Service Commission analysis noted that as of May 2023, the state had 3.7 million natural gas customers – 3.4 million of which are residential customers. That gives companies the potential to recover $66.7 million per year should recovery be approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio under the language.

Electric Vehicle (EV) development is also a hot topic in the Ohio Statehouse.  A coalition of stakeholders unveiled potential budget changes they say balance the need to deploy electric vehicle infrastructure against the potential for undercutting fuel retailers’ operations.  This EV provision creates a new mechanism to guide deployment of EV charging stations in rural areas under the purview of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.  The proposal is separate from House-added budget provisions, which survived the Senate, enabling cost recovery for EV-related “make ready infrastructure” – language that has already drawn criticism from consumers advocates like the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel. The legislative changes were supported by AEP Ohio, AES Ohio, the Ohio Energy and Convenience Association and Americans for Affordable Clean Energy. Fuel retailers signing on are Casey’s, Circle K, GetGo, Love’s and Sheetz. Under the compromise amendment, rural areas of the state – those with fewer than 50,000 residents – could be designated as “areas of last resort” if they have no publicly available EV charging stations five years after the language takes effect.  Areas within a 10-mile radius of another publicly available EV charging station or within one mile of an alternative fuel corridor – a designation used by the Federal Highway Administration to denote the availability of chargers and other fuel types – would be excluded from that “last resort” zone.  The proposed mechanism allows a utility to petition the PUCO for approval of a charging station in those areas and entitles the company to “timely and adequate cost recovery” for those investments.  Such filings must be publicly noticed on the utility’s website and to each transportation fuel dealer in a 10-miles radius of the proposed station. If the PUCO approves the project, construction may begin 180 days later.  Private entities in the area would enjoy a right of first refusal in what supporters said would ensure “competition is not impaired.”

Also, on the EV front, Ohio recently created an EV workforce strategy–  The strategy was developed in collaboration with industry partners, employers, education and training organizations, and community partners across Ohio to identify, and find solutions for, workforce gaps in the industry. As part of the strategy, Ohio Office of Workforce Transformation. the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association (OMA), and other industry stakeholders provided a current snapshot of the EV sector and outlined a plan for filling the workforce gap in the industry, including an opportunity to bolster workforce efforts across industries with shared foundational competencies, like semiconductors. The strategy outlines a pathway for increasing career awareness, broadening the talent pool, and establishing and scaling education & training programs around the state.  The strategy’s plan includes:

  • Establishing a statewide EV industry sector partnership with regional implementation;
  • Driving EV industry desirability and career awareness; and
  • Broadening the EV workforce talent pool.

According to the strategy, it is anticipated that more than 25,000 new jobs will be created by 2030 through a combination of EV manufacturing and maintenance, battery development manufacturing and charging station installation and operations. That level of growth, nearly a 30 percent increase over the current automotive manufacturing sector workforce, will require industrial and academic sectors to fully recalibrate learning pathways, scale training and skilling opportunities through programs like TechCred and IMAP, and increase the workforce to power the advanced manufacturing future.