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Will Ohio Lawmakers Step In To Save Struggling Power Plants?


Lawmakers are trying to decide whether the state should step in and save struggling power plants that might be on the brink of closing. As the Legislature’s top leaders gathered for a forum they were asked what’s next for these so-called bailout proposals.

People in northeast Ohio understand the important role the Perry Nuclear Power Plant has played in the community. That includes Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, who was part of the team of workers that helped build the facility in the 70’s.

“What about the Perry Plant, if that closes what’s that going to do? Will we still have the ability to support our schools? And the question was, in their mind, they wouldn’t,” said Yuko.

SB155 would prop up FirstEnergy’s Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants and create so-called “zero emission credits,” reflecting that nuclear power doesn’t produce carbon dioxide emissions, which cheaper natural gas does. Those credits would raise a customer’s electric bill by about $5 a month.

It’s so important to the company that FirstEnergy’s CEO Chuck Jones personally testified before a Senate committee. Jones himself said this proposal could save the company from bankruptcy – a circumstance that would be alarming to Yuko.

“If we let it die like that, you’re gonna see police levies, you’re gonna see fire levies, you’re gonna see operating levies from the communities out there that have already had their local government funds slashed to the point where they can’t sustain any more cuts,” Yuko said.

Environmental and consumer groups have come out against the issue saying it would subsidize uneconomic plants for power generation the state doesn’t need.

Republican Senate President Larry Obhof is patrolling the talks and says, on the surface, this is the type of measure he wouldn’t be behind.

“The reflexive answer certainly from most people on my side of the aisle is, in general, we don’t support things that we would consider subsidies or bailouts,” Obhof said.

But Obhof says they need to consider all the cause and effect. He’s not just talking about a bailout for nuclear but also subsidies for two struggling coal plants, in HB239 and SB128. The plants are owned by a collective of utilities, the Kyger Creek plant in Cheshire and another in Indiana.

Obhof says there are many questions to answer when you consider the impact of these plants.

“If some legislation is done to alleviate the situation will that keep those plants open?” Obhof said. “If there is no legislation, will those plants close? If they close and we have 11 percent less generation will that drive up the cost of energy and end up getting tacked onto everybody’s bills at some point anyway.”

Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger echoed the idea that these proposals are still up in the air and their future is yet to be determined.

But while lawmakers are considering subsidizing coal and nuclear, they’re also talking about getting rid of green energy incentives. Obhof says they’re trying to strike the right balance.

“I’m trying to stay philosophically consistent and frankly that’s one of the reasons that we’re looking at all of those issues together at the same time,” Obhof said.

"I don’t know if you have to have a fidelity to philosophy when you’re talking about sustainable energy or renewable energy which is the next new big thing,” Strahorn said.

That’s Democratic House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, who says his caucus is grappling with the impact of bailing out nuclear and coal plants that don’t perform well versus the costs of possible shutdowns. But he adds that green energy is different because investing in the industry will have an economic benefit for the state.

“Renewable energy is the next big economic thing and we should do things that foster that and grow that industry here in Ohio,” Strahorn said.

The bill to prop up the nuclear plants has had several hearings in the Senate but has yet to pass out of committee.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.