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Nuclear plant rescue bill nears final votes

By Jim Provance • Jul 17, 2019 at 8:30 PM

COLUMBUS — Whether called a corporate bailout or the rescue of 1,400 direct jobs, a controversial bill requiring consumers to reach into their pockets to keep Ohio’s two nuclear power plants humming could reach the governor’s desk by day’s end.

The state Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee voted Wednesday to send the measure to the full Senate with the House waiting in the wings to potentially take it up and send it on to Gov. Mike DeWine.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Steve Wilson (R., Maineville), said he was convinced that, absent this bill, there would be no nuclear power plants in Ohio within a couple of years.

“I had the opportunity to be involved in looking at the books and to drive up to see the plants,” he said. “I am convinced that without this help, they would have decommissioned.”

House Bill 6 requires monthly surcharges on electric bills ranging from 85 cents for residential customers to $2,400 for major industrial plants to fuel a $170 million-a-year fund. Of that, $150 million would go to First Energy Solutions’ Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Oak Harbor and the Perry plant east of Cleveland and $20 million would go to five utility-scale solar fields that have already received siting approval.

FES, currently in bankruptcy proceedings, has said it would begin decommissioning both plants because they’ve been unable to compete economically with cheaper and abundant natural gas.

Sen. Rob McColley (R., Napoleon) opposed the bill.

“I don’t think the state should be giving $150 million to a generation company with very little strings attached,” he said. “I think we need to make sure that the free market works…I believe this will have a chilling impact on the potential investment in natural gas.”

New York-based LS Power this week announced it would halt its planned $500 million, 500-megawatt expansion of its Troy Generating Facility, a dual-fuel plant operating on gas and oil, in Luckey if House Bill 6 becomes law. It said the expansion would have fed hundreds of construction jobs and 20 additional permanent positions.

“If politicians choose to tax utility ratepayers to provide giveaways to specific generators, those generators no longer have to compete,” the company said. “They can offer to sell their power for low or no cost because they are getting a payment from outside the market. This deprives plants like Troy and other plants in (Ohio) that are not the beneficiaries of giveaways, of critical revenue.”

FES set an initial deadline of June 30 for legislative action given that it would need to order expensive fuel to keep Davis-Besse running. Otherwise, the plant directly employing about 700 people would be shut down by May 31. Perry would follow the next year.

The generation company has since softened its position on that deadline as passage of the nuclear bill and state budget went into extra innings in Columbus.

In order to allow supporters to make the case that ultimately customers’ electricity bills would decrease under the measure, the bill scales back and then ultimately eliminates existing mandates that utilities find more of their power from wind, solar, and other renewable sources and reduce energy consumption overall.

The renewable mandate would end in 2026, and charges associated with it would drop off customers’ bills at that time. Utilities would no longer have to meet increased energy efficiency requirements once they reach 17.5 percent, a threshold most are already nearing.

The committee narrowly rejected an attempt from McColley to restore House-backed language allowing voter referenda on the siting of wind farms in townships.

“The argument is we don’t do this for nuclear power plants (and) coal plants, but we also don’t industrialize 42,000 acres for 300 megawatts,” said Dennis Schreiner, of Groton Township, Erie County, among those who’ve been pushing for the referendum language.

The bill also allows for surcharges to continue on customers’ bills to support two coal-fired power plants in southern Ohio and southeast Indiana that are operated by the multi-utility Ohio Valley Energy Corporation.

The Ohio Supreme Court had previously upheld the charges while the bill would cap the monthly rates at $1.50 for residential customers and $1,500 for large industrial users.

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