Ohio Senate votes to repeal nuclear plant bailout

Jim Provance, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·3 min read

Mar. 3—COLUMBUS — Making its biggest statement yet in the wake of a $61 million Statehouse bribery scandal, the Ohio Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to kill a controversial $1 billion bailout of two northern Ohio nuclear power plants.

The chamber, however, kept the portion of the now tainted House Bill 6 passed in 2019 that provides $20 million a year to support qualifying utility-scale solar projects.

If the House of Representatives agrees, the bill would remove provisions of the law requiring electricity customers to pay $150 million a year in surcharges to support operation of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant near Oak Harbor and the Perry plant east of Cleveland. Together, the two plants along Lake Erie directly employ about 1,400 people.

"We need to use this as teachable moment ... to realize that when we are passing legislation, we need to look at it in the context of what is best for the citizens of Ohio," said state Sen. Rob McColley (R., Napoleon), originally a "no" vote on House Bill 6.

"This is something that will undo what I feel is an awful lot of damage that has been done, not just to our institution but to the state of Ohio," he said.

The decision to end the nuclear credits was made easier by the decision of the plants' owner, Energy Harbor, to forgo the money after federal rules were changed to penalize providers in the competitive electricity marketplace if they accept state subsidies.

Two individuals and a nonprofit corporation involved in the bribery scheme have already pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges. Charges are still pending against three others, including former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford), in connection with the scheme to hide the flow of cash from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. and related entities.

The money was used to help elect representatives loyal to Mr. Householder, help elect him speaker, and then enact the nuclear bailout sought by what was then a FirstEnergy subsidiary but is now the independent Energy Harbor.

The Senate's move Wednesday does not undo provisions of House Bill 6 that roll back and then eliminate prior statutory mandates that utilities produce more of their power from renewable sources and reduce energy consumption overall.

There also are competing bills, including one that passed the Senate and is now in the House that would repeal House Bill 6 provisions that would have locked in FirstEnergy Corp. profits regardless of what happened in the electricity marketplace. FirstEnergy has already agreed not to take advantage of that provision this year.

The House also has its own bill pending to repeal the nuclear and revenue guarantee provisions.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R., Lima) said no agreement has been reached with the House as to which vehicle legislation will be sent to Gov. Mike DeWine's desk.

"I was part of the discussion in the last month or so of the last General Assembly, and in general conversations with Speaker [Bob] Cupp at that time, about things that collectively the House and Senate could get enough votes to pass," he said. "Those are the first two things that we have done....

"I think those things are supported by a significant majority," Mr. Huffman said. "You can see they were passed unanimously out of the Senate, so we can deal with those two significant problems of House Bill 6.... It certainly doesn't mean it's the end of the discussion regarding those things."

With the initial passage of House Bill 6, the plants' owner, then FirstEnergy Solutions, proceeded with refueling Davis-Besse, clearing a potential major hurdle in the plant's continued operation.