COLUMBUS (WKBN) – Just after 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, most of the members of the Ohio House of Representatives voted whether to agree to changes the Senate made to House Bill 6, also known as the Ohio Clean Air Act.
The bill creates an annual $150 million ratepayer bailout for FirstEnergy Solutions’ two nuclear power plants in northern Ohio.
To get ratepayers to not revolt and accept the bailout, lawmakers who supported the effort stripped fees from current energy bills — creating a difference using simple math — and called it savings, which they have continued to do ever since.
We’ve covered this next bit before, but quickly, the fees they are stripping away go toward energy efficiency programs that help keep residents’ overall bills low by providing incentives for purchasing more energy-efficient items.
For example, when you go to the appliance store and buy a new, more energy-efficient machine, instant rebates and overall incentives are rolled into the cost at the register. Most of the time, you don’t realize exactly how much you are saving.
Without the rebates and incentives from those programs, new, more efficient machines’ prices could go up, making less efficient machines more attractive to the immediate cash situation a consumer may be facing.
If they buy the less efficient machine, they end up paying for it in the end with higher energy use on their electric bill.
Supporters of the Ohio Clean Air Act, also known as House Bill 6, don’t believe the numbers that have been reported to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO).
It’s estimated energy efficiency programs have saved more than $5 billion over the past decade.
Those same supporters of HB 6 claim cutting the incentives and mandates for energy efficiency and renewable energy will save consumers more than $1 billion over the next nine years.
Opponents of the bill continue to call out the bill’s deficiencies as they see them. They say passing the bill could result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of potential jobs in the renewable energy sector. Then there’s the now-common refrain that this is going to make your electric bill go up.
When asked when that might happen, Trish Demeter — an advocate with the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund — said it could be a year or two before the effects are felt.
At the last minute, the Senate amended the bill to delay implementation of the bailout by one year so promises of creating savings could be realized by dodging when certain fees are scheduled to end on bills.
That means things don’t really kick in until after the next election, where seats for every single member of the Ohio House of Representatives are up for renewal.
Conveniently, the delay of the potential fallout will push things far enough down the road to be long forgotten by most ratepayers — or so is the hope.
In the meantime, opponents of the bill may not just roll over and give up. There is already talk of a citizen referendum that could be started to overturn the bill.
However, a short window of opportunity and a great deal of money, manpower and commitment would be necessary, according to State Representative David Leland.
A referendum would require north of 400,000 signed petitions in less than 90 days.
The goal would be to get the referendum in front of voters for the 2020 presidential election next fall. Leland says that’s when the most Ohioans would be voting and have the best opportunity to weigh in on whether they want to pay for this bailout.
Still going through bankruptcy, the first payments wouldn’t even begin showing up to FirstEnergy Solutions until April 2021.
They told lawmakers they needed to know they were going to get the $150 million annual bailout by June 30 so they could decide whether to spend more than $50 million on fuel for one of the two plants or if they needed to start the irreversible final stage of the shutdown process at the plants.
They didn’t get their answer by June 30, so they extended the deadline to July 17. They didn’t get their answer by July 17 and as of Tuesday, no one has returned our phone calls to explain what they have decided to do.
As we’ve covered before, nuclear fuel is purchased eight months before it is needed and lasts roughly two years. It is unique to a specific plant, can only be used at that plant and is created from scratch for that plant, so FirstEnergy Solutions can’t just sell it off to another plant that “needs” it once it is purchased.
While Leland says he doesn’t think this was an emergency, it very well could have been. If the fuel costs were not something the investors agreed to shell out, they could have shuttered two nuclear power plants in Ohio permanently.
Then there is the subsidy HB 6 gives for two struggling coal plants. In addition to the $150 million bailout, ratepayers will be shelling out up to $1.50 on their electric bill for the two OVEC plants, one of which is in Indiana.
Imagine how if those plants were to close, in addition to two nuclear power plants, the optics would be for the Republican-controlled state of Ohio leading into a presidential election year.
Governor Mike DeWine signed the Ohio Clean Air Act within minutes of getting it from the Ohio House of Representatives Tuesday.