COLUMBUS, Ohio— Next week will be an important one in deciding the fate of Ohio’s two nuclear power plants and the state’s green-energy mandates.
House Bill 6, which would bail out FirstEnergy Solutions’ Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants and scrap Ohio’s energy-efficiency and renewable-energy standards for utilities, must be passed before the legislature leaves for summer break at the end of the month, proponents say. That’s because FirstEnergy Solutions asserts it must decide by June 30 whether to order $52 million worth of new nuclear fuel or move to close the two plants.
(The company, which is going through bankruptcy proceedings as part of an effort to separate from FirstEnergy Corp., says the plants are unprofitable without state subsidies).
But as that June 30 deadline approaches, state senators are still working to hammer out a compromise deal that is acceptable to both the Ohio Senate and House.
State Sen. Matt Dolan, a Chagrin Falls Republican, told The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com editorial board Friday that he is working on an “alternative” to HB6 with state Sen. Steve Wilson, a Maineville Republican who chairs the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee, which has been holding hearings on the bill.
Dolan, who also serves on the committee, said their proposed revision is “not ready to be aired yet,” but he indicated it would no longer seek to completely abolish the state’s energy-efficiency and renewable-energy standards.
That alternative, Dolan said, “won’t undermine the development of alternative energy and clean energy in Ohio.”
Wilson didn’t immediately return a phone call Friday to his office. But he said earlier this month that he personally favors spinning out the nuclear subsidies away from the other parts of the legislation that don’t need to be passed before summer break.
Dolan, however, questioned whether lawmakers really need to approve subsidies by the end of the month.
“Is that a real deadline, or is that something that was created to create pressure?” Dolan asked.
Dolan indicated that he was open to offering subsidies to the nuclear plants and to “slowing down” the clean-energy mandates. But he opposes getting rid of the mandates entirely, saying such a move would have a “chilling effect” on future investments regarding any new technology and innovation in Ohio.
Under the current version of HB6, passed by the Ohio House late last month, every residential ratepayer in Ohio would be charged up to $1 per month through 2026 to create a “clean-air” fund that would raise about $190 million per year. Most – if not all – of that money would go toward bailing out the two nuclear facilities.
However, if the energy-efficiency and renewable-energy surcharges are abolished, Ohio residential electricity customers would see their power bills drop by $4.39 per month, on average.
Dolan also expressed opposition to the two other major parts of the bill: one allowing utilities that co-own the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation to continue to charge its customers through 2030 to subsidize two coal-fired power plants; the other to allow residents in unincorporated areas of Ohio townships to call for a referendum on whether to allow a wind-energy project in their area.
Dolan and Wilson are walking a tightrope as they attempt to revise HB6 – whatever revisions they come up with must address senators’ concerns with the bill without watering the legislation down so much that the House would reject it.
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, who has made HB6 a priority, told reporters earlier this week that his chamber doesn’t want to consider the nuclear subsidies separately from the clean-energy mandates.
“It’s going to be very difficult, if the mandates aren’t removed, for our members to agree to it,” the speaker said.
If the nuclear subsidies do pass and are signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine (who has indicated his support), some opponents say they’ll seek a statewide referendum on overturning it in 2020.
Bill Siderewicz, president of Clean Energy Future and a minority investor in a natural gas-fired power generating plant near Lordstown, said in an interview that about 30 large energy-consuming companies – whom he declined to name – would back the effort, which was first reported by Gongwer News Service.
Siderewicz said he and his allies are still discussing what type of ballot issue they would seek: a referendum to overturn the law, a citizen-initiated law (in which voters force lawmakers to consider a bill) or a proposed constitutional amendment.
Siderewicz said he wasn’t worried that his side would be outspent, even though the pro-HB6 side has already spent millions toward getting the bill passed.
“We have more money than they do, simply put,” Siderewicz said.