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

Wilkin

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

Image result for ohio state house

"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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Renewable Energy Sizzles, Natural Gas Fizzles

"Due to regional and seasonal energy use patterns, renewables may lose their lead over the short term, but EIA expects renewables to put in a strong showing this summer. In May, the agency issued a forecast for the summer of 2019 under the somewhat ominous headline, “EIA expects less electricity to come from coal this summer as natural gas, renewables rise.”

EIA anticipates a slight decrease in electricity demand this summer, from June through August, compared to 2018. The agency forecasts that coal will be especially vulnerable, sliding to a 25 percent share of U.S. electricity generation for the three-month period.

By way of comparison, in the summer of 2015, coal’s share was 35 percent.

Natural gas will once again top coal by a wide margin this summer. According to the forecast, gas will account for 40 percent of U.S. power generation for the summer of 2019, up slightly from its 39 percent share in 2018. Meanwhile, EIA expects hydropower and other renewables to account for a respectable total of 16 percent for the summer of 2019, up slightly from last year."

- Tina Casey, Triple Pundit  

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Ohio nuclear bailout foes take initial steps toward statewide referendum

COLUMBUS — "The group Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts announced in a release that it turned in 2,866 petition signatures to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office from registered Ohio voters in favor of the referendum. The group also submitted proposed summary language – a succinct explanation of the proposal provided to voters asked to sign a petition supporting the measure – to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office.

If Yost OKs the summary language and LaRose certifies that at least 1,000 of the petition signatures are valid, HB6 opponents can then start collecting the 265,774 petition signatures needed for the issue to appear on the November 2020 ballot.

'Ohio families and businesses know H.B. 6 is a costly attack on Ohio consumers,' said Gene Pierce, spokesman for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, in a statement. 'This is the first step in rolling back this corporate bailout and reinstating Ohio's renewable standards.'

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, backed by environmental and business groups, formed a couple of hours after Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB6 last Tuesday."

— Jeremy Pelzer, cleveland.com 

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Ohio Republicans balked at a nuclear bailout, so the industry elected new Republicans — And walked away with $1.1 billion

"Several dark-money groups spent millions to replace key Republican state legislators in the spring of 2018, followed by a furious lobbying campaign to make sure those new lawmakers elected a new House speaker — one who was amenable to the subsidy. The nuclear industry in Ohio has been on the brink of failure for several years, but previous legislatures had objected to a bailout, reading the writing on the wall: Nuclear power is neither a cost-effective solution for power nor an effective response to climate change, despite hopes for its success.

In April 2018, two nuclear plants, both owned by the electric utility FirstEnergy, filed for bankruptcy and have been threatening to cease operations if not bailed out. They were under increasing pressure to compete with cheaper alternatives, ranging from natural gas to wind and solar. The bankruptcy filingsgive a glimpse into the company’s political spending: more than $30 million from 2018-2019 on lobbying and campaigns in Ohio and Pennsylvania (where the company also sought a bailout, so far unsuccessfully).

The dark-money effort deployed a variety of vehicles that went by names like the Conservative Leadership Alliance and the Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance. Murray Energy, a coal company, also gave heavily to current state House Speaker Larry Householder and his allied candidates, and the bailout from Ohio also includes subsidies to prop up failing coal plants in the state.

The payoff is extraordinary in degree — something like $30 million for campaigns in Ohio and Pennsylvania to win $1.1 billion in government subsidy. But it is similar in kind to other nuclear projects across the country. According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit devoted to research and advocacy, five cash-strapped states across the country have foisted more than $15 billion in subsidies on failing nuclear power plants since 2016, the latest sign that nuclear is unable to stand in a competitive energy market against lower-cost renewables."

— Ryan Grim, Akela Lacy, The Intercept 

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Think tank: Nuclear plants' bankrupt owner spent heavily for bailout

COLUMBUS — Dave Anderson, the San Francisco-based Energy and Policy Institute’s policy and communications manager, said bankruptcy filings show lobbying firms were getting paid by FirstEnergy Solutions with the permission of the court. Then FirstEnergy Solutions and the lobbying firms were launching pro-bailout coalitions like the Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance.

'It provided a rare window into the inner workings of what are supposedly grassroots campaigns,' he said.

The almost $50 million in spending is separate from the millions spent on both sides of the Ohio fight on TV and radio ads and mailers. A pro-bailout group, Generation Now, is a dark money super PAC that is estimated to have spent more than $9 million on TV and radio ads. It will eventually have to reveal the sources of its money to the IRS.

The Ohio Consumer Power Alliance financed a series of radio ads and mailers in opposition to the bill.

House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) said the entities funding Generation Now are 'people who are employees who want to keep their jobs in the state of Ohio and corporations that are headquartered in the state of Ohio that want to stay in the state of Ohio…'

He also said that Generation Now was acting defensively in its spending after the natural gas industry started to attack house members’ efforts to pass the bill."

— Jim Provance, The Blade 

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Clean Energy Future president vows H.B. 6 referendum

COLUMBUS — "A referendum committee has been formed to overturn legislation signed into law Tuesday that subsidizes two nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions.

The announcement by Bill Siderewicz, president of Boston-based Clean Energy Future, followed House Bill 6 being signed into law Tuesday afternoon by Gov. Mike DeWine. The bill passed by a 51-38 vote in the Ohio House of Representatives. On July 17, it was approved by a 19-12 vote in the Ohio Senate.

The legislation will apply monthly surcharges of $2.50 for residential energy customers, $20 for commercial customers and $250 for customers classified as industrial. It also creates the Ohio Clean Air Quality Development Authority, which would provide during the first year 'clean air credits' under the Ohio Clean Air program to power plants, such as nuclear power plants, that produce zero carbon emissions."

— George Nelson, The Business Journal

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