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Ohio consumers could pay $300M through electric bill fees under new plan

By: Laura A. Bischoff |

Ohio consumers would pay $300 million through new fees in their electric bills to create a new pot of state money — more than half of which could go to bailout two nuclear power plants along Lake Erie.

At a Friday press conference, Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, detailed legislation he is pushing to eliminate surcharges electricity customers currently pay for energy efficiency, peak demand and renewable energy, which he says aren’t accomplishing goals.

The new monthly fees — $2.50 for residential, $20 for commercial, $250 for industrial and $2,500 for very large energy users — will be less than the current surcharges, he said.

In Ohio there are 4.27 million residential, 532,000 commercial and 16,000 industrial electric customers, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

The cash — about $300 million a year — will go into the new grant program to be administered by the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority. Energy generators would be eligible for $9.25 in grant money for each megawatt of zero carbon emission power they churn out.

The biggest potential winner of the new grants: First Energy Solutions, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2018 and announced plans to close the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station east of Toledo and the Perry Nuclear Power Plant east of Cleveland. Akron-based First Energy Corp. spun off FES into a separate company.

FES and its allies have been looking for a bailout to keep open the plants, which generate about 18.3 million megawatts of zero carbon emission power each year.

Householder’s energy bill, which will be assigned to a committee next week, was immediately met with criticism from the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and Ohio Consumers Power Alliance as a consumer-funded bailout of aging nuclear power plants that does little to promote renewable energy from wind and solar.

“The entire intent of this bill is to bailout the two nuclear power plants,” said Tracy Sabetta, a consultant to Ohio Consumers Power Alliance. Under the legislation language, no existing solar farm in Ohio would qualify for grants under the new program, she said.

The bill doesn’t change restrictions on how close windmills can be placed to property lines — something that has hampered development of wind energy projects. Householder said a separate bill may address wind setback rules, which he said are tied to questions of property rights.

A bailout bill introduced last legislative session that would have helped FES failed to get traction but this new program has the backing of Householder and his leadership team.

State Rep. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee, told his hometown newspaper that sitting in the chairman’s spot “will put me in the best position in order to try to protect the Perry Nuclear Power Plant which has been slated for closure.”

Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said generally his Republican caucus members support taking steps to keep the nuclear power plants operating but he noted that he hasn’t looked at any detailed proposal.

Gov. Mike DeWine has also expressed support for keeping the plants open. The governor said earlier this year: “If we lose those two nuclear plants, they comprise the vast, vast majority of the clean energy that we have today in the state of Ohio.”

First Energy and FES have made campaign donations to Ohio politicians — something that Householder said has no bearing on the new energy bill.

Since 2014, FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy PAC have contributed $1.35 million to Ohio political candidates, including $61,957 to the campaign and transition funds for DeWine and his running mate Jon Husted. FirstEnergy also donated another $1.56 million since 2014 to political parties in Ohio.

Other money flows directly from First Energy employees to Ohio political candidates: $132,797 since 2014. In October 2018, FirstEnergy Chief Executive Chuck Jones donated $12,700 worth of food and beverage to the DeWine Husted campaign in October 2018, records show.

Householder, who received $25,414 in FirstEnergy campaign contributions in 2017 and 2018, hitched a ride on a First Energy corporate aircraft to President Trump’s inauguration.

Householder said the new program would encourage clean energy generation through hydro-electric, solar, wind and nuclear technology and lead to cleaner air.