FirstEnergy Solutions lawsuit asks Ohio Supreme Court to block House Bill 6 referendum

COLUMBUS — "The filing notes that a number of opponents of HB6 argued that it was a tax during legislative debate over the measure earlier this year.

The suit was filed against Secretary of State Frank LaRose – the state’s chief elections official – as well as Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, the group pushing to hold the referendum.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts got the go-ahead last week to begin collecting the roughly 266,000 valid petition signatures from registered voters to place the referendum on the 2020 ballot. The group has until Oct. 21 to submit the signatures.

FirstEnergy Solutions asked the Supreme Court to rule quickly, arguing in a motion that "'The sooner the Court invalidates the Referendum Petition, the fewer the number of Ohio electors who will be misled by the Committee’s illegal referendum effort and the less public resources that will be wasted in determining the sufficiency of signatures and other legal requirements relating to the futile Referendum Petition.'”

— Jeremy Pelzer, Cleveland.com

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Proposed anti-House Bill 6 referendum clears initial hurdle

COLUMBUS — "Efforts to hold a statewide referendum to overturn Ohio’s newly passed nuclear power plant bailout law moved a step closer to reality Thursday, as Attorney General Dave Yost announced he has approved supporters’ ballot summary language.


Editorial: Early start to HB 6 ad wars portends misinformation to come

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The website of Ohioans for Energy Security warns, "don't give your personal information to the Chinese government."

"Brace yourselves, Ohio, for another whole holler-fest around House Bill 6, the recently passed law using Ohioans’ electric bills to bail out two nuclear power plants plus a couple of coal plants. It also will boost a few specific solar-energy projects but otherwise decimate clean-energy development in the state.

Unsurprisingly, the law has enough opposition that a campaign was mounted quickly to subject it to a ballot referendum. Equally unsurprisingly, HB 6 backers plan to fight the referendum effort.

If the law’s opponents succeed in getting the 265,774 valid petition signatures they need by Oct. 21 to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot, we can all expect a hard-fought campaign with a barrage of ads like those we saw while the General Assembly was debating the bill. Obnoxious ad wars are standard for high-profile ballot issues.

In this case, though, those who want to see the bailout bill survive aren’t even waiting for an election campaign; they’re spending money to keep an election from happening. A new group called Ohioans for Energy Security is running an ad urging people not to sign the referendum petition."

-- Editorial, The Columbus Dispatch

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Scant evidence for Chinese threat claimed in nuke bailout backers’ ad

(Screenshot from the new pro-HB 6 ad)

COLUMBUS -- "One problem with discerning the motives of the two groups around the legislation signed last month by Gov. Mike DeWine is that as limited-liability corporations, neither has to say who is giving them money, and both are refusing to do so.

'We’re not going to get distracted,' Pierce said. 'We’ll make our filings.'

Similarly, FirstEnergy Solutions is in bankruptcy after receiving $10.2 billion in state subsidies since 1999, but supporters of the bailout won’t say who’s financing the current $1 million ad campaign.

A spokesman for DeWine said he had no comment on the ad or its secret financing.

House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, was perhaps the biggest supporter of the bailout and on Tuesday he seemed to support the ad as well.

'We continue to be concerned about increased foreign ownership of America’s critical infrastructure and the potential threat it poses to our national security, energy security and public safety,' said his spokeswoman, Gail Crawley.

Another backer, Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said he favored the bill because it saved jobs. 'That’s the right public policy for the people of Ohio, regardless of whatever messaging either side uses on the campaign trail,' he said in an email."

-- Marty Schladen, The Columbus Dispatch

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Ad invokes spurious Chinese invasion of Ohio to try to head off HB 6 referendum: editorial

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"As cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer reports, this could be just the opening salvo in a likely spending spree to protect the nuclear bailout, should the issue get on the ballot.

But what is the evidence to support the ad’s alarmist rhetoric about a Chinese invasion?

Not much.

Ohioans for Energy Security, the group behind the ads, cites the fact that Ohio natural gas plants built or being built by entrepreneur Bill Siderewicz -- one of those behind the anti-HB-6 referendum effort -- have Chinese investment money (yes, along with private U.S., British, and French money and equity from Australian and Germany firms, as well).

That’s not exactly the same as an invasion."

-- Editorial Board, Cleveland.com

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Pro-nuclear bailout group joins battle over Ohio's new energy law

(Photo by Steve Estvanik / Shutterstock.com)

COLUMBUS -- "A group is looking to collect signatures statewide to ask voters to overturn the law that bails out nuclear power plants. But a competing group has formed to argue in favor of the ratepayer subsidies.

Ohio voters could soon face an important decision regarding the future of the state's new energy law, without even looking at a ballot.

To put a referendum on the 2020 ballot, those who want to throw out the law would have to collect more than 265,000 valid signatures – which is a big number in a very short period of time. And it means you might be approached by a person with a clipboard in the next two months asking for your support.

The new energy law created through House Bill 6 bails out Ohio's two nuclear power plants through $150 million in annual subsidies. That money is generated through a new 85-cent charge on everyone's monthly electric bills."

-- Andy Chow, Statehouse News Bureau 

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FirstEnergy Solutions behind argument against Ohio nuclear subsidy referendum

(Davis-Besse Power Plant / Wikimedia Commons)

COLUMBUS -- "A public records request confirms that FirstEnergy’s bankrupt generation subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions, is behind a tax argument being advanced to block a referendum on an Ohio bill granting subsidies to nuclear and coal plants.

Ohio lawmakers passed the nuclear and coal subsidy bill on July 23 despite widespread opposition from environmental groups, consumer advocates, renewable energy industry interests, petroleum industry interests, free market advocates and others. Six days later, a coalition of some of those interests filed its first proposed referendum against the bill, with an eye toward getting it on the ballot for November 2020.

Two days later, attorney John Zeiger of Columbus sent a letter and legal memorandum to the Ohio secretary of state’s office, arguing that House Bill 6 is a 'law providing for a tax levy' that would be exempt from the state constitution’s referendum procedures."

-- Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network

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House Bill 6 opponents seek ballot decision

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State Representative Shane Wilkin

"Friday’s submission included revised summary petition language and the signatures of 2,246 Ohio voters.

Both the attorney general and secretary of state’s office have until Aug. 30 to certify the petition, the group said.

If approved, the referendum campaign said it would begin collecting the roughly 265,000 signatures of Ohio voters needed to place the issue on the November 2020 general election ballot, with the deadline for obtaining those signatures two months away on Oct. 21, 2019.

Wilkin previously told The Times-Gazette that his view of the bill from the very beginning was that it had to bring with it a rate reduction for consumers, and despite the differences in what he originally co-sponsored and what the governor signed, he still holds that it’s a good bill.

Gene Pierce of OACB strongly disagreed with Wilkin’s assessment, describing House Bill 6 as 'a wrong-headed decision that makes government the final judge as to what companies survive and which ones don’t,' adding that in his group’s view, it should be the free market and free market prices that decide, and not 'a universal hike in fees on people that use electricity.'”

– Tim Colliver, The Times-Gazette

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Professor sees flaw in argument that energy bill is a "tax increase"

Public Utilities Commission of Ohio voting

Photo by Karen Kasler

"A Columbus law firm argues that the new energy law charging electric customers up to $2.35 a month for nuclear, coal, and solar subsidies is a tax increase.

'Here, the charges levied under HB6 are imposed by the legislature, upon a broad class of parties, and for a public purpose,' writes John Zeiger, attorney with Zeiger, Tigges, and Little. 

The memo was sent to the Ohio Secretary of State's office in hopes of thwarting an attempt to put a referendum of the energy bill on the 2020 ballot. Under the Ohio Constitution, voters cannot reject a tax increase through a referendum.

Ned Hill, an energy economics professor for Ohio State University, does not agree with that line of thinking. He says, if that were the case, then the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has approved several tax increases over the years.

'All the other non-bypassable riders that have been larded onto your electricity bills over the past six years are also taxes and maybe legally questionable,' says Hill."

- Andy Chow, Statehouse News Bureau 

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Six things you need to know about Ohio’s energy efficiency rollback

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"Historically, Ohio utilities were required to get pre-approval for their energy efficiency programs. Pre-approval required a formal docket proceeding before the PUCO in which portfolio offerings were evaluated, stakeholders could comment on the energy efficiency programs and robust analysis improved portfolio cost-effectiveness and innovation.

In 2018 and 2019, the PUCO changed the energy efficiency portfolio planning process to eliminate pre-approval and instead implement a post-program annual audit. Under the new rules, existing plans are deemed reasonable unless the PUCO decides to take action.  

These regulatory changes, coupled with H.B. 6, mean that energy efficiency plans for 2020 could change. Several utilities will file their updated portfolio plans September 1. Upon receiving the plan filings, the PUCO could take action and open a docket proceeding, although they are no longer required to do so."

- Nick Hromalik, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA)

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