Ohio Clean Air Act nearing the finish line, overdue for FirstEnergy Solutions deadline

Ohio Statehouse News

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – FirstEnergy Solutions told lawmakers their investors needed to know by July 1st if the State was going to help them with a bailout to the tune of $150 million annually.

They needed to know by that red-line date specifically because a decision had to be made whether to purchase fuel for one of two financially failing nuclear power plants in northern Ohio.

The fuel has to be purchased 8 months before it is needed because it has to be created specifically for a single plant because each plant is unique.

If they didn’t get a commitment to help by July 1st, they promised to begin the process of shutting down the reactor in the plant, which is irreversible.

Thousands would eventually lose their jobs, Ohio would lose two clean energy producing power plants, and two communities would be impacted by their shuttering.

When the Senate failed to meet FirstEnergy Solutions deadline, the company moved the goal post and told them the deadline could be moved back to July 17th. Apparently, they’ve been able to figure out how to stretch two weeks beyond their red-line date.

Was it a bluff? Was it bad math that resulted in the wrong red-line date? Will there be a rush put on the job to create the fuel if they do get what they want two weeks late, and is that safe? All questions without answers currently.

What we do know is the Ohio Senate is making progress toward meeting that July 17th deadline.

A new version of the House Bill was accepted by the Senate committee Monday. The Committee plans to entertain amendments on Wednesday and tentatively plans to vote the bill out of committee and send it to the floor of the Senate on that same day.

Lawmakers have about 48 hours to get their amendments in order and submitted if they want a realistic shot at getting them added to the bill. It is unlikely any Democrat sponsored amendments of any substance will be added, as they have not been participating in the construction of the substitute bill, as is par for the course in the GOP controlled Statehouse.

Monday, the Democrats were kept in the dark about what was in the bill until committee was convened. Democrat lawmakers on the other side of the aisle are learning what is in the bill as the public is.

Due to the number of Republicans in the Senate, Democrats are almost never needed to pass any bill out of the chamber, so their input is welcome but rarely heeded as their amendments are routinely ignored through the tabling process.

The bill itself gives FirstEnergy Solutions what it wants, $150 million annually; but it carries strings.

The company will have to submit to annual reviews, as Chairman of the committee State Senator Steve Wilson calls them.

Reviews, audits, a show of need; Wilson says they’re all the same thing and what they are called doesn’t matter even if FirstEnergy didn’t want to submit to an audit or open their books to an independent third party to show they needed the money just a few weeks ago.

“FirstEnergy Solutions has worked very closely with us to get to the point where their comfortable with the review that we are asking for,” said Wilson.

The review would be conducted by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
If the plants get to the point where they don’t need the assistance it can be reduced or even eliminated.

To pay for this, the State will not be dipping into its own coffers and allocating the $150 million; instead it is going to have citizens pay for the bailout on their electric bills.

They want to add a $0.85 charge to your bill and an additional $1.00 charge to help offset the cost of two coal-fired OVEC power plants, one of which is in Indiana.

Because adding more charges to your electric bill would be a pretty unpopular move, they plan to remove some fees as well.

The plan is to get rid of the fees that go toward paying for energy efficiency programs; these fees are around $4.85.

So depending on which utility you get your electricity from, you could be saving between $0.69 and $3.88 per month by 2021.

Dayton Power and Light customers will see the least of these savings at $0.69 while Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company customers seeing the $3.88 savings, with other customers falling somewhere in between.

But here’s the thing, those savings are straight savings based on the bald fees. They don’t take into account what will happen to your bill as a result of the elimination of the energy efficiency programs that roughly $4.85 were paying for, according to Dan Sawmiller with the Natural Resource Defense Council.

Sawmiller describes it this way: With the current programs and fees in place, a company is incentivized by the available program dollars to install energy efficient lightbulbs. Those lightbulbs use less electricity and lower the overall electric bill for that company.

Without the current programs and fees in place, a company has no financial incentive to offset the purchase the sometimes costly higher efficiency equipment so they buy the cheaper less efficient version, and run that less efficient equipment resulting in higher overall electricity usage. The higher usage results in a higher bill.

Republicans who support the bill say Sawmiller’s argument is a philosophical one and politically based; they do not believe his scenario and say as technology will advance to be inherently more efficient.

The bill also changes a few other things.

It takes mandates for renewable energy generation and throws them out, at a certain point.

The new bill says that if a utility can reach 17.5% by next year they are good, if they can’t then they need to work with the PUCO to come up with a timetable for when they will.

Once they reach 17.5% they don’t have to maintain it either; if the company wants to drop back down to 15 or 10 or 0% they can.

During the introduction of the new bill, Wilson talked about how the Senate took a 100+ page bill and trimmed out so much it is nearly half the size now, coming in around 66-pages.

Some of the things that were stripped out of the House version of the bill include emission checks, a referendum on wind projects that would have allowed citizens to hold a referendum to block a wind project after the company had already spent millions of dollars and secured approval to move forward on it, as well as a proposal for a Federal Energy Regulation Commission report.

In the meantime, millions of dollars has been spent on television and radio advertising continues to prompt citizens to reach out to their lawmakers and tell them to vote “yes” or “no” on the bill that has gone through so many changes it is quite different than when it began.

“There is a lot of confusing advertising and marketing, radio ads, and people are right to be confused by the messages that they’re hearing. The truth is, at the end of the day House Bill 6 is going to raise your energy bill in the State of Ohio,” said Sawmiller.

As for Wilson, he says this is the best bill possible, “We’ve worked very hard on it and tried to accommodate all concerns that we possibly could.”

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