skip to Main Content

Multiple approaches floated on fate of nuclear bailout law

JIM PROVANCE The Blade jprovance@theblade.com

“We all know now from the U.S. Attorney’s investigation that has produced criminal indictments, racketeering guilty pleas, high level executive dismissals, and the resignation of Ohio’s top utility regulator that these policy proposals were brought to us in bad faith,” he said. “Clearly, the best way we can send the message that Ohio is not for sale is by repealing these provisions of House Bill 6.”

COLUMBUS — A House committee on Wednesday dove into multiple competing measures to repeal all or parts of the $1 billion nuclear plant bailout law now considered to be the tainted fruits of a $61 million Ohio Statehouse bribery scandal.

The differing approaches demonstrate the General Assembly’s indecision thus far as to what to do with House Bill 6, which remains on the books despite federal racketeering charges brought against former House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) and four of his allies for their roles in getting it there.

Rep. Jim Hoops (R., Napoleon), chairman of the House Utilities Committee, said he was “angry, disgusted, and disappointed” in the revelations of what went on behind the scenes to pass a law he voted for.

“Those who voted for the bill voted for what was in the bill and discussed in committee meetings,” he said. “We did not vote for what was happening behind the scenes and in a room somewhere outside the Statehouse.”

Two of the players and a non-profit corporation have already pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme. It was designed to hide the money from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. and related entities that was used to elect lawmakers loyal to Mr. Householder in 2018, elect him speaker in 2019, pass the bailout law, and then kill a petition effort seeking to subject it to voter referendum.

House Bill 128, sponsored by Reps. Hoops and Dick Stein (R., Norwalk), would repeal portions of the law that would have subsidized operations of the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Oak Harbor and the Perry plant east of Cleveland. Directly employing about 1,400 people, both plants are now both owned by Energy Harbor, the post-bankruptcy successor to FirstEnergy Solutions.

Mr. Stein said he believes Davis-Besse operates today because of House Bill 6, even though Energy Harbor has yet to see a penny. Its predecessor, FirstEnergy Solutions, refueled the plant after previously exploring decommissioning it.

“In my belief, if we had not passed House Bill 6, we wouldn’t have at least one of those two plants in existence today,” he said.

The bill would also remove two other provisions that would have directly benefitted FirstEnergy Corp., locking in its high profits regardless of what happened in the electricity market.

Court rulings have at least temporarily placed on hold customer surcharges that would have fueled a $150 million a year fund for the nuclear plants. Changes subsequently made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may have also made it risky for Energy Harbor to now accept the state subsidies.

As part of an agreement with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, FirstEnergy also agreed to forgo more than $100 million in income in 2021 it could have received if the so-called “decoupling” provision, one of the two revenue guarantees, remains. House Bill 128 would require refunds of any related fees already collected from customers.

House Bill 128 would also eliminate consumer surcharges to fuel a separate $20 million annual fund to support utility-scale solar projects.

Notably, the bill would leave in place provisions of the bailout law that scale back and then eliminate mandates that utilities find more of their power from renewable sources and reduce energy consumption overall. These changes resulted in an end to consumer surcharges tied to the mandates.

The bill, however, does not eliminate a separate surcharge on customers statewide to support the operation of two 1950s-era coal-fired power plants in southern Ohio and southeast Indiana that are owned by a consortium of utilities, the biggest shareholder being American Electric Power.

Rep. David Leland (D., Columbus) introduced one of two bills in the chamber that would repeal House Bill 6 altogether.

“We all know now from the U.S. Attorney’s investigation that has produced criminal indictments, racketeering guilty pleas, high level executive dismissals, and the resignation of Ohio’s top utility regulator that these policy proposals were brought to us in bad faith,” he said. “Clearly, the best way we can send the message that Ohio is not for sale is by repealing these provisions of House Bill 6.”

Another bill focuses entirely on the excessive earnings provision directly affecting FirstEnergy.

The full Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously to repeal only the two FirstEnergy revenue guarantee provisions that were unrelated to the nuclear subsidies. The chamber rejected a Democratic amendment that would have fully repealed the law.

Meanwhile, charges are still pending against Mr. Householder, powerful Columbus lobbyist Neil Clark, and lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges. Convictions could lead to prison sentences of up to 20 years.

Read the original article here.

Back To Top