Ohio House Republicans on Wednesday dramatically transformed a controversial “clean-energy” subsidy bill, turning it into a bailout plan for both nuclear and coal power plants owned by Ohio companies.
The changes to House Bill 6, made by the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would also end Ohio’s much-disputed renewable-energy and energy-efficiency mandates for utilities after this year, which cost residential electricity users an average of about $4.60 per month. Instead, residential customers statewide would pay up to $1 per month into an estimated $190 million “Ohio Clean Air Program” fund, most of which would go to help keep open the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, owned by FirstEnergy Solutions.
Commercial, industrial, and very large power users would pay more than residential customers, though they would also see reduced surcharges under the legislation.
The initial version of House Bill 6 sought to create a $300-million-per-year fund – about half of which would go to the two nuclear plants, and the rest toward solar, hydroelectric and wind power plants (though with some significant caveats) and fossil-fuel plants that take steps to reduce emissions. Proponents of the bill at the time sharply disputed calling that plan a nuclear “bailout,” arguing it would benefit a range of energy sources.
But state Rep. Nino Vitale, the chair of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Republicans decided to shut out renewable energy plants from the subsidy fund because renewable-energy industry officials fought against HB6, saying the existing mandates should remain in place unaltered.
“We spent a lot of time trying to work with the wind and solar folks, and they didn’t really want to play,” Vitale said. “So if you take that [proposed renewable-energy subsidy] out, it becomes more of a benefit to ratepayers.”
Under the new version of HB6, the nuclear subsidies would stop at the end of 2026. Vitale said that’s so lawmakers at that time can re-evaluate whether to keep them or make changes.
A further change made to the bill would enshrine in state law an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation could charge ratepayers to subsidize two OVEC coal-fired power plants — one in Ohio, the other in Indiana. House Republicans from southern and southeast Ohio have been pushing for years for the Piketon-based company (which is jointly owned by several electrical utilities) to receive such subsidies.
House Speaker Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican who’s made HB6 a priority, told reporters Wednesday that allowing the subsidies are the “right thing to do,” as OVEC has carried on costs to take care of the now-closed Piketon uranium enrichment plant.
Vitale said the committee may vote as soon as Thursday on sending HB6 to the House floor. But it remains to be seen whether Householder has enough “yes” votes for it to pass the House.
State Rep. Ryan Smith, a southern Ohio Republican who lost the speakership to Householder earlier this year, said Wednesday that he remains opposed to HB6 even with the OVEC subsidy language. “I don’t think that moves me a bit,” he said.
While Vitale said he believes some Democrats support HB6, all five Democrats on Vitale’s committee voted against Wednesday’s changes. “Now it’s just straight-up corporate welfare,” said state Rep. Kristin Boggs, a Columbus Democrat who serves on the committee.
Boggs said House Democrats not only sought to keep Ohio’s mandate that utilities must obtain 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2027 – they proposed raising those standards to 50 percent by 2050 (half of which would have to come from renewable energy sources from within Ohio).