With Ohio bailout law secured, FirstEnergy Solutions successor moves to increase share buybacks by $300 million

COLUMBUS -- "Leaders of a former FirstEnergy subsidiary, which Ohio electricity customers will soon begin paying $150 million annually to subsidize under a nuclear bailout law Ohio officials passed last year, have moved to spend an extra $300 million on repurchasing the company’s own stock.

The stock buybacks, meant to benefit corporate shareholders, come less than a year after an aggressive multi-year lobbying effort by FirstEnergy that culminated in Gov. Mike DeWine and state lawmakers approving $1 billion in bailout money funded by surcharges on Ohioans’ electric bills. The company and elected officials who backed the bailout argued without state money, the power plants and their parent company would become insolvent.

The board of directors for the company now known as Energy Harbor on Friday voted to increase authorization for its stock buyback program from $500 million to $800 million, according to an investor presentation the company posted to its website. Energy Harbor can buy back the stock any time until Aug. 27., under the terms of a company plan, approved as the Akron company spun off from FirstEnergy as it emerged from bankruptcy proceedings earlier this year."

-- Andrew Tobias, cleveland.com

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A dirty battle for a nuclear bailout in Ohio

A mailer sent to thousands of Ohio residents falsely linked the Chinese government to anti-bailout activists.

"The raw political and economic power of the industry was on display even after the bill was passed. Having been defeated within the legislature, grassroots organizations such as Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts and Ohio Consumers Power Alliance took to the streets and tried to collect signatures on a petition calling for a referendum question about HB6 to be included in the 2020 elections. It was a tough task, since those opposing the bailout had less than two months to gather over a quarter of a million valid signatures.

FirstEnergy tried to stop them with a two-pronged approach. The first was a legal trick. It went to the state’s supreme court and argued that the monthly charges on customers 'should be considered tax increases, which cannot be challenged by a referendum.' But the court dismissed the case, saying there was 'no ‘justiciable controversy’ for it to decide.' For the main part, though, the response from FirstEnergy and other beneficiaries was more of the same: dark money–backed organizations spending millions to undo the grassroots efforts by urging voters to refuse signing the petition.

Among these organizations was one called Ohioans for Energy Security, which sponsored television advertisements that falsely claimed that China is 'intertwining themselves financially in our energy infrastructure,' threatening 'national security,' and implying that not going through with the bailout campaign would lead to Chinese control of Ohio’s power grid. The watchdog organization Energy and Policy Institute quickly identified that some of the people featured in the TV advertisement were in fact FirstEnergy employees. In other words, there was reason to suspect that FirstEnergy was behind the advertisement. Ohioans for Energy Security also mailed thousands of letters to state residents with bold lettering behind a Chinese flag imploring, 'Don’t give the Chinese government your personal information.' The hyperbolic allegations about China apparently are connected to natural gas-fired power plants in Ohio that were partially financed by a Chinese government-owned bank, although FirstEnergy has itself borrowed money from the same bank."

-- Shakiba Fadaie and M. V. RamanaBulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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Citizens groups demand aggressive Cleveland utility reconnections

End Poverty Now is a coalition of 22 groups in Cleveland that works to address and combat issues of poverty in Cleveland communities. The above photo lists the coalition's demands concerning the utility shutoffs during the COVID-19 outbreak.

CLEVELAND — "Rachael Belz, Executive Director for Ohio Citizen Action told News 5 the coalition has started a petition drive, calling on the city to more aggressively let citizens know they can have service temporarily restored.

Belz said the growing financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 crisis is going to have even more residents get behind on paying their utility bills.

'How do they even find out that’s what they’re supposed to do,' Belz said.

'Even sending a postcard or making a phone call or at least try to make a phone call and leave a message.'

— Joe Pagonakis, News 5 Cleveland

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Ohio green-energy groups increasingly look to locals in fight against global warming

COLUMBUS — "Environmental advocates have been working on the local level for years, finding success in getting cities to commit to getting 100 percent of their energy from renewable sourcesreplacing gas-powered city vehicles with electric cars, and even building their own solar arrays, among other things.

But now, such efforts are becoming more organized with the creation of Power A Clean Future Ohio, which will work to help municipal leaders implement carbon-reduction plans. The new group is backed by organizations such as the Ohio Environmental Council, the Ohio Mayors Alliance, and the Sierra Club’s Ohio chapter.

'Regardless of what the state is doing, there’s just a lot of opportunity for local governments to step in here, and to take a kind of leadership role,' said Joe Flarida, executive director of Power A Clean Future Ohio. 'There’s just kind of a natural fit there and a lot of authority that they have to do things right away, so we’re taking advantage.'"

— Jeremy Pelzer, Cleveland.com

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Power struggle: Federal ruling calls into question Ohio's nuclear plant subsidies

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

"'FERC's order is a direct response to a trend of state subsidization of uneconomical power plants, including those benefiting from the recently passed Ohio House Bill 6 (HB6),' the report reads. 'The FERC order is a giant stick against state subsidies, and tips HB6 on its head: Rather than improve the economic position of select Ohio (and Indiana) power plants, the HB6 subsidies now jeopardize these same power plants from competitively earned revenue in the wholesale electric capacity market. ... About $190 million in annual capacity revenue for these same generators is now at risk,' it adds.

While it says it's not telling Ohio or any other state whether to subsidize their power plants, FERC wants to make sure auctions for capacity power are fair and competitive. It's instructed the regional grid operator PJM to institute a minimum offer price rule (MOPR) for its capacity auctions, setting prices at which subsidized plants could bid in.

Capacity power is electricity the grid keeps on reserve to meet its maximum load requirements. It's tapped into when the grid exceeds its base load and needs more juice. Power companies bid to provide that power at a set price. When the grid needs it, PJM begins buying the lowest-priced power and keeps buying more expensive power from other bidders until it has enough. Then, all of the capacity power providers get that last and highest price for all of the capacity power they provided.

FERC says allowing nuclear plants supported by state subsidies to bid into these auctions at lower prices than other nuclear plants could support is not fair. So, it's ordered PJM to set a minimum price at which Davis-Besse, Perry and other subsidized plants can bid in."

-- Dan Shingler, Crain's Cleveland Business 

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Ohio clean energy groups will seek recusals from PUCO nominee

Members of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio meet in March 2018. photo: PUCO

COLUMBUS — “Randazzo himself raised the question of recusals when he opposed Democrat Howard Petricoff for a seat on the PUCO in 2016. Petricoff had represented wind industry clients, as well as some companies that favor a shift to renewable energy.

…The issue is broader in Randazzo’s case. As PUCO chair, he would have both a vote and a leadership role in setting the commission’s agenda. Ohio law would also make Randazzo chair of the Ohio Power Siting Board, giving him a say in which renewable energy projects can be built.

Now notices filed last month with the PUCO list more than four dozen matters in which Randazzo has withdrawn as counsel of record for Industrial Energy Users-Ohio.

Similar notices in additional cases reflect recent representation of companies such as U.S. Steel, Timken, Cleveland Thermal and more. Some of those cases are “reasonable arrangement” cases that seek regulators’ blessing for special deals for large industrial customers. Such deals can shift more utility costs to consumers.”

— Kathiann M Kowalski, Midwest Energy News

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Environmental groups oppose DeWine's pick for PUCO Chair

Wind and wuthering.

"Wind and wuthering." by stuant63 on Creative Commons

"Randazzo, who recently retired from representing Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, is one of four nominees selected by a nominating council. The environmental groups are specifically targeting Randazzo for his past opposition to renewable energy projects.

'We need someone who’s a visionary, someone who really understands not just what Ohio’s like today but what Ohio needs to be in the future to stay competitive,' says Heather Taylor-Miesle with the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund.

Industrial Energy Users-Ohio represents large energy ratepayers, with members such as Marathon Gas and McDonald’s franchises.

On behalf of the group, Randazzo consistently opposed proposals that resulted in increases on electric bills. That meant opposing renewable energy standards, but it included opposing a cost recovery plan for coal plants."

-- Andy Chow, Statehouse News Bureau 

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Candidates for Ohio regulatory board vary widely on clean energy issues

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"Sam Randazzo has spent more than 25 years as general counsel for Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, an organization that has lobbied to scale back or eliminate clean energy standards in the state.

The organization’s website has characterized the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards as a hidden energy mandate tax on electric bills. Randazzo provided input to the office of Ohio Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, for drafting a 2016 bill to push any additional enforceable requirements under the state’s clean energy standards out for another two or three years. IEU-Ohio has also provided legislative testimony aimed at supporting bills to restrict the state’s clean energy standards. Randazzo has criticized wind and solar energy for 'obvious reliability-related problems.' They 'don’t show up for work' and 'can’t be made to show up for work,' he wrote in a 2018 IEU-Ohio report.

Outside his work for IEU-Ohio, Randazzo has represented opponents to wind farm turbines before the Ohio Power Siting Board. One case dealt with a specific wind farm. In another proceeding, he urged adoption of rule language that could have applied the state’s current strict setback requirements even more harshly.

Randazzo is not formally affiliated with a political party. Over a 17-year period, however, he gave about two-thirds of roughly $194,000 in campaign donations to Republican candidates, according to FollowTheMoney.org. He did not respond to an email seeking comment on why he wants to be a commissioner and what he hopes to bring to the commission."

-- Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network

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Statement of Response as Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts Files to Dismiss its Appeal to Save House Bill 6 Referendum

CINCINNATI — Nearly one year ago, House Bill 6 was introduced with the intent of providing a consumer-funded bailout of two inefficient nuclear power plants and weakening the state’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. As the legislation moved through the House and Senate, changes were accepted that added subsidies for two of the region’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants and essentially gutted the clean energy standards that have been so successful since their passage in 2008. Following a quick signature on HB 6 from Governor Mike DeWine, Ohioans for Corporate Bailouts began moving forward with an attempted referendum to put the issue before Ohio voters in November 2020.

Yesterday, that movement toward a public vote on this issue came to an end. After running one of the most expensive and divisive campaigns of intimidation and confusion, FirstEnergy Solutions and the unlimited cash they poured into securing this bailout could not be matched by the resources of Ohioans for Corporate Bailouts. As a result, referendum supporters were forced to file a motion to dismiss its appeal before the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals and end its pursuit of additional time to collect signatures and place the issue on the ballot.

Ohio Consumers Power Alliance opposed House Bill 6 since the day it was introduced in 2019. Now after a long and brutal battle, the end result is that Ohioans will not have the final say on whether they support state investment in clean energy innovation and economic growth. Those same Ohioans, however, will now be saddled with a charge on their bills every month to bail out two nuclear plants and two old, dirty coal plants.

FirstEnergy Solutions left a dark stain on democracy in Ohio in their fight to win at all costs. A majority of Ohio lawmakers also chose to put corporate profits over the best interests of Ohio consumers by passing House Bill 6 back in July. No new technology, no job growth. Lawmakers chose only to reward the bad business decisions of a bankrupt corporation. We will remember their votes on this critical bill.

— Rachael Belz Project Director, Ohio Consumers Power Alliance

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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