COLUMBUS — EDP Renewables North America, the world’s fourth-largest wind developer, invested more than $700 million into projects in Paulding and Hardin counties when Ohio first rolled out the red carpet.
But more recent signals from the state — including last year’s passage of the $1 billion bailout of two nuclear plants — have convinced the company to look elsewhere for its future investments.
“HB 6 created a false dichotomy — that Ohio must sacrifice a clean-energy future at the expense of its energy past,” Erin Bowser, EDP’s director of project management, on Wednesday told a House of Representatives select committee now considering repealing House Bill 6.
“But rather than pit technologies against each other, we encourage the state to leverage the strengths of each and maximize the contributions that can come from various energy sectors,” she said.
Most of the effects of the law at the heart of a $60 million Statehouse bribery scandal are set to take effect Jan. 1. The law generally creates or expands consumer-fueled subsidies for legacy nuclear and coal-fired power plants in Ohio and offsets those costs by rolling back and eliminating existing surcharges designed to create markets for renewable sources like wind and solar and reduce energy consumption overall.
House Bill 6 — and stricter property-line setback requirements separately enacted several years ago — have rolled up that red carpet first extended in 2008, Bowser said.
The House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight, chaired by state Rep. Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon, whose district includes Putnam County, is considering two bills — separately introduced by Republicans and Democrats — that would outright repeal House Bill 6.
But the committee is also considering whether to replace the law, which has many moving parts that go well beyond the $1 billion, seven-year bailout of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant near Oak Harbor and its sister Perry plant east of Cleveland.
The law also contains expanded customer subsidies through 2030 for two 1950s-era, coal-fired power plants in southern Ohio and across the border in Indiana that are owned by a consortium of utilities. American Electric Power holds the biggest share.
It also holds $20 million a year for five specific utility-scale solar projects in Hardin County and southern Ohio.
The latter provision has caused a split within the Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition of Ohio, an 18-member trade association for developers, manufacturers, and industry leaders.
“Some of our members benefited from the solar language in current law while others took a loss with the reduction in (the renewable power mandates),” said Jason Rafield, the group’s executive director. “Our members would support a return to the previous (renewable standards) because it’s good for the industry.”
But the projects that have received or been promised a piece of the $20 million solar pie under House Bill 6 don’t want to see that disappear.
Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and four of his allies face federal racketeering charges for allegedly using a non-profit corporation to launder some $60 million in “dark money” from FirstEnergy Corp. and related entities.
The money was used to help elect state representatives loyal to Householder, who then helped to elect him speaker in 2019. The new speaker then used his power to push through the law that would provide $150 million a year to support the two nuclear plants owned by a former FirstEnergy subsidiary now called Energy Harbor.
Once it became law, the funding scheme allegedly continued to fight successfully an effort to ask voters to repeal the law on this fall’s ballot. All of the defendants have been accused of diverting some of the money for their personal use.
State Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, a member of the select committee, argued that the uncertain reliability of wind and sun make survival of aging power plants a necessity.
“We’re never going to get above the 2,000 megawatts that’s generated by the nuclear industry without possibly subsidizing them short-term until we come up with more workable solution like wind, solar, and possibly other renewables,” he said.