COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court on Friday brought to an end the legal fight over an unsuccessful attempt to subject the state’s consumer bailout of nuclear and coal plants to a voter referendum.
The high court had before it several questions posed by a U.S. District Court judge in Columbus as to whether the Ohio Constitution guarantees citizens a full 90 days to gather signatures to put a newly signed law on the ballot.
Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, the entity behind the failed referendum effort, already had withdrawn its federal appeal and had asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the questions that had stemmed from that case.
House Bill 6 is now law. Beginning next year, electricity customers across the state will pay a surcharge to fund a $170 million-a-year pot of money, $150 million of which will subsidize FirstEnergy Solutions’ Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Oak Harbor and Perry plant east of Cleveland. The remaining $20 million will support five utility-scale solar fields.
A separate surcharge will subsidize two coal-fired plants, one in southern Ohio and the other in southeast Indiana, that are owned by a multi-utility consortium.
Supporters of the law note that consumers will ultimately save money as current mandates that require utilities to buy more renewable power and conserve more energy are either eliminated or scaled back.
The referendum group had sued when it became clear it would not be able to gather the nearly 266,000 signatures needed to put the law before voters on the 2020 ballot.
It blamed a deep-pocketed opposition effort that financed advertising trying to link the referendum to Chinese interests, the group’s hiring of blockers to physically come between petition circulators and would-be signers, and delays created when Attorney General Dave Yost rejected the group’s first pass at petition language.