Editorial: Don’t believe ads opposing FirstEnergy bailout referendum


Akron Beacon Journal



How much money is at stake in Ohio lawmakers’ bailout of Akron-based FirstEnergy Solution’s nuclear power plants?

Enough to motivate backers of House Bill 6 to produce slick TV commercials and mailers that wildly twist the truth in an effort to stop a referendum seeking to block the bailout. It’s even been enough to prompt a physical altercation between a woman and a man asking people to sign petitions whom she was monitoring.

We say enough already, FirstEnergy Solutions.

Passed this summer, HB 6 implements a special 85 cent monthly charge on Ohioans’ residential electric bills to bail out FirstEnergy Solutions’ two nuclear power plants producing renewable power, plus a couple of unrelated coal plants. It also will boost a few specific solar-energy projects but otherwise foolishly decimate clean-energy development in the state.

If the law’s opponents succeed in getting the 265,774 valid petition signatures they need by Oct. 21 to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot, we can expect a hard-fought campaign with a barrage of ads like those we saw while the General Assembly was debating the bill.

In this case, though, those who want to see the bailout bill survive aren’t even waiting for an election campaign; they’re spending money to keep an election from happening. A new group called Ohioans for Energy Security is running two horribly false TV ads and sending misleading mailers urging people not to sign the referendum petition.

The ads are masterpieces of misdirection, casting the referendum effort as an attempt by the Chinese government to take over Ohioans’ electric power. The newest piece now airing falsely claims Chinese interests are buying power plants in Ohio.

The first TV spot featured random scenes of Chinese officials and ceremonies, and you-should-be-scared music as from a suspense-film trailer completed the effect. It’s silly enough to be a parody of political ads, but unfortunately it reflects the state of public debate on this issue.

“They took our manufacturing jobs. They shuttered our factories,” the classic ominous campaign-ad voice intones. “Now, they’re coming for our energy jobs.”

Here are some facts:

• The effort to overturn the bailout bill is funded largely by the natural gas industry, which will benefit if the nuclear plants close and, yes, some natural gas companies have financing from the Chinese national bank. And guess what? So does FirstEnergy Solutions’ soon-to-be former parent company. It’s hard to say which is worse, the scaremongering or the hypocrisy.

• Opposition to HB 6 isn’t limited to the gas interests. Those who want to see Ohio develop a thriving clean-energy economy oppose its gutting of most clean-energy incentives. And plenty of people object in principle to making ratepayers bail out power plants.

• Keeping the nuclear plants open, i.e., rejecting a referendum and letting HB 6 stand, would save some Ohio jobs, mainly the 1,400 or so people who work at the Perrysburg and Davis-Besse plants. But this argument ignores the uncounted jobs and investment that clean energy could bring to Ohio, if only the General Assembly would stop undermining the nascent industry at every turn.

• Passage of HB 6 already is affecting other electricity options for Ohioans. Clean Energy Future, an interest that has natural gas plants in northwest Ohio and had invested $1 million toward developing another $1.1 billion facility in Lordstown, is scrapping those plans. Another company, LS Power, said previously that it would cancel a $500 million expansion of its plant in Luckey, Ohio.

HB 6 bails out two nuclear power plants by giving its owners nearly $1 billion, and that will save those 1,400 jobs and preserve renewable power sources for now. The bill also does a lot to damage Ohio’s future, and Ohioans have good reason to second-guess the legislature’s actions.

It’s an issue worthy of more public debate, presuming it can be based on arguments resembling facts.

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Akron Beacon Journal

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