How market power gives electric utilities political power

"In the pathway to 100% renewable energy lie electric utilities. Since the time of electrification until the 1990s, every electric utility was a monopoly––it owned everything to deliver electricity from the power plants (and sometimes even the coal mines) to the transmission lines to the substations to the distribution lines to the meter on your home or business). With a market monopoly, utilities have enormous political power to promote or avoid change.

Utilities operate under three legal structures: investor-owned, public, or cooperative. Investor-owned utilities were the first, and they focused on serving urban areas with the highest concentrations of customers. Municipal, city-owned utilities followed soon after, serving cities without private utilities or taking over private utilities that didn’t provide high quality, affordable service. Supported by the federal government, member-owned rural electric cooperatives filled in the gaps left by the first two (as shown in the map below).

Monopoly defined all three ownership structures. For private utilities, the early captains of the electric industry realized it would be more profitable if they didn’t have competition. An early industry leader, Samuel Insull, cut a political deal with state policy makers––protection from competition in exchange for public oversight via regulatory commissions, often called Public Utilities Commissions. The first of these was formed around 1905. For public and cooperative utilities, they also retained a monopoly, but with oversight of municipal utilities provided by a city’s voters and elected officials and oversight of cooperatives provided by a board of member-owners elected by customers."

-- John Farrell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

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Ohioans tell State Representative Upchurch that they have not forgotten his vote on House Bill 6

Consumer group running radio ads with a reminder of Upchurch’s support of coal bailout

Rep. Terrence Upchurch

CINCINNATI – Four months after the passage of controversial House Bill 6, the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance has launched a radio campaign reminding voters in Ohio House District 10 that State Representative Terrence Upchurch voted against their best interest when he voted in support of the legislation in July 2019.

House Bill 6 bailed out two failing nuclear power plants and two of the region’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants, while gutting the state’s successful renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. The bill imposes a monthly fee on every electric ratepayer across the state to subsidize FirstEnergy Solutions to the tune of $150 million each year to keep their nuclear power plants operational. In addition, $50 million each year will be used to subsidize two coal plants, one of which is located in Indiana. At the same time, the reversal of the energy efficiency standards is estimated to cost Ohioans $4 billion in cost savings that will no longer happen.

Voices on the radio spot currently airing on WMJI and WTAM in Cleveland tell Representative Upchurch, “We will remember. We will remember your yes vote on HB 6. We will remember that you voted for Wall Street investors over hardworking Ohioans…Your vote on HB 6 bailed out two outdated nuclear power plants and two coal plants – one that’s in Indiana. Your vote killed Ohio’s renewable energy standards and energy efficiency efforts. We will remember.”

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It's deadline day for anti-nuclear bailout referendum

Groups opposed to House Bill 6 need more than 265,000 signatures to get a referendum on the ballot in 2020. (distell2610/Pixabay)

Groups opposed to House Bill 6 need more than 265,000 signatures to get a referendum on the ballot in 2020. (distell2610/Pixabay)

COLUMBUS — "Ohioans who want voters to decide the future of a new clean-energy law soon will know if their efforts are fruitful. Today is the deadline for opponents of House Bill 6 to submit the signatures needed to get a referendum on the November 2020 ballot.

The controversial bill was signed into law in July, and includes new fees on electric bills that would keep two First Energy nuclear plants open. Melissa English, director of the opposition group Ohio Consumers Power Alliance, said petitioners spent the weekend in an all-out blitz to reach as many voters as possible.

'Informed and engaged citizens are the best possible hedges against the abuses of government and corporate power. That's what this is about,' English said. 'This has been a long, ugly fight. Pro-bailout forces understand that if Ohioans get a chance to vote on this they're going to vote it down.'"

— Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service

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Dark money is pouring in to protect the “worst energy policy in the country”

Mother Jones illustration; Getty

"It all started back in July, when the Ohio state legislature passed a law—called HB6—that, starting next year, will charge consumers new fees to rescue four struggling power plants. Those charges will eventually add up to a $1 billion bailout for the utility FirstEnergy Solutions’ two nuclear plants, while handing a lifeline to two 1950s-era coal plants owned by another utility, the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation.

Because of the law, Ohio is the first state to reverse its renewable energy standards and efficiency targets, all while funneling more money to coal—a move that has clean energy advocates fuming. Leah Stokes, an environmental political science professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, called it the 'worst energy policy in the country.'

But this it isn’t your typical environmentalists-vs.-fossil-fuel-industry fight. The side opposing the bailout has clean-energy advocates working alongside the natural gas industry. And though the supporters of the bailout include some of the usual suspects—FirstEnergy, coal-reliant American Electric Power and Duke Energy, and the coal baron and Trump donor Robert Murray—they have also marshaled a mysterious string of deep-pocketed advocacy groups."

-- Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones

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Actual CO2 emissions from EPA show “Ohio Clean Air Program” in HB 6 legislation lies to Ohio voters

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Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts' promotional material

COLUMBUS - "Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts today released data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showing that carbon dioxide emissions from the three coal plants that benefit from HB 6 exceed by more than two times the carbon offset from the two nuclear plants that ratepayers are being forced to subsidize under the law.

'This information from the EPA shows once again how HB 6 supporters lied to Ohioans by claiming the bill was about clean air when it’s really just a bailout for a bankrupt company that doesn’t reduce carbon emissions,' said Gene Pierce, spokesman for the coalition.

From the moment that HB 6 was filed last spring, supporters of the ratepayer bailout for the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions stated the plants must be subsidized and saved because they don’t emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

However, under HB 6, two money losing coal plants owned by Ohio Valley Electric Corp, Clifty Creek in Indiana and Kyger Creek in Ohio, were added to also receive direct subsidies. A third coal plant set for retirement, the W.H. Sammis plant in Ohio, indirectly got a boost from HB 6 when owner FirstEnergy Solutions announced that with the subsides approved for its nuclear plants, it would keep Sammis open, too."

-- Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts

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In Ohio, shady front groups fight dirty to attack grassroots campaign against $1 billion nuke/coal bailout

"An ugly political war is raging in Ohio, pitting consumer and environmental advocates against big utilities and dark-money front groups that want to make electricity customers pay more than $1 billion to bail out failing nuclear and coal-fired power plants. The bad guys are fighting dirty, using deceitful scare tactics and alleged cash payoffs that are now under investigation by the state attorney general, to derail the anti-bailout campaign.

It’s a fight for the future of energy that could erupt in other states as utilities seek public subsidies to prop up their outdated, inefficient, dirty and dangerous power plants against competition from cheaper and cleaner solar and wind power. Figures compiled by EWG show that in the past three years, five states have handed utilities more than $15 billion in taxpayer-funded bailouts of failing nuclear plants.

This summer, Ohio utility interests spent almost $10 million to push through legislation to slap a surcharge on ratepayers’ monthly electricity bills in a move to subsidize two nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions and two coal plants owned by Ohio Valley Electric Corp. Not only are the plants not needed to provide a secure supply of electricity but the bill would also effectively stop state renewable energy and efficiency mandates for utilities.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill. But a grassroots group, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, wants to let voters decide whether to overturn the law."

-- Grant Smith and Bill Walker, Environmental Working Group (EWG)

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Editorial: Campaign built on deceit undermines democracy in Ohio

COLUMBUS -- "Each time we think we have stated strongly enough our thorough disgust with backers of a nuclear-plant bailout (House Bill 6) and their lying, dangerous campaign to prevent voters from having a chance to overturn it, a new outrage prompts us to say it again: Voters, do not be fooled. If you oppose making electricity customers pay an extra $150 million per year to subsidize two failed power plants — or even if you just think voters should have the last word — sign the petition.

A dark-money group calling itself Ohioans for Energy Security — likely funded by the nuclear plants who want the bailout — has embarked on a scorched-truth campaign to stop an effort by another dark-money group, funded by natural gas interests, to put a referendum — which could cancel HB 6 — on the November 2020 ballot.

The latest ugly distortion is in a 30-second TV ad by Ohioans for Energy Security that began airing last Friday. It warns viewers about people gathering petition signatures for the referendum, describing them as 'outsiders brought into our state to roam our neighborhoods.'

We call this ugly because it casts the gathering of ballot petition signatures as something sinister. A mailer sent out by the group earlier instructed, 'If you see a circulator, report them to our hotline.' For what? Committing democracy?"

-- Editorial Board, The Columbus Dispatch

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Nuclear bailout group encouraging people to remove signature from referendum

Ohio voter signs petition for HB6 referendum in Columbus.

"'When HB6's supporters' false and misleading propaganda failed to slow down our petition drive, they resorted to physical intimidation tactics. When intimidation tactics didn't work, supporters switched to trying to confuse the situation even more with a withdrawal campaign. Voters are not confused. They know HB6 is a bailout and they know this petition will put the billion dollar bailout up for a vote,' Pierce says in a written statement.

Catherine Turcer with the voter rights group Common Cause Ohio, says the effort to remove names from the petition is just the latest strategy from groups trying to interfere with a citizen's right to referendum.

'Making it just even harder for voters to have the opportunity to vote on this energy bill,' says Turcer. 'There are so many hoops to do a referendum, it's just creating yet another hoop.'"

-- Andy Chow, Statehouse News Bureau

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Ohio AG investigates new allegations in fight over energy bill referendum

COLUMBUS — "Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is investigating new allegations that people circulating petitions for a statewide referendum on a controversial energy bill are being offered cash to quit the campaign and to sell signed petitions to the opposing side.

It’s the latest chapter in a costly, contentious fight over House Bill 6, which was signed into law in July. It mandates Ohio’s 4.8 million utility customers pay monthly fees to bailout aging nuclear power plants owned by Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions and two coal-fired plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electricity Corp. The bailouts add up to more than $1 billion.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, which faces an Oct. 21 deadline to collect 265,744 valid voter signatures, alleges that opponents of their campaign have offered their circulators as much as $10,000 to quit and one of their petition circulating vendors was offered $100,000 to pull out."

— Laura A. Bischoff, Dayton Daily News

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FirstEnergy, disavow aggressive tactics against anti-HB 6 petition circulators

"Yost called on signature-gatherers to report harassment and intimidation directly to his office by calling (800) 282-0515.

A statement from Generation Now, the pro-HB 6 group that has hired petition blockers, said it would not tolerate illegal tactics. 'Field staffers have been reminded repeatedly to act appropriately and generally it appears they are,' said the statement from spokesman Curt Steiner. 'One staffer was fired after misbehavior was documented and FieldWorks will follow up on any documented incidents.'

But the best and surest way to end these incidents is for FirstEnergy to step forward now and do the right thing, by condemning the intimidation and calling for it to end."

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