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As Legislators Debate Energy Bill, Ads Flood Ohio Airwaves

The entrance to Energy Harbor's Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio.
Ron Schwane
Associated Press
The entrance to FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Ohioans are being bombarded with an ad campaign focused on an energy bill—House Bill 6—that’s being debated in the state legislature.

Dayton Daily News reporter Laura Bischoff said HB6 is a controversial energy bill that would cost consumers about $300 million a year in surcharges.

"The money would go into a new fund that probably half, or a little more than that, would likely go to save two aging nuclear power plants that are slated to close: Davis Besse and Perry," Bishcoff said. 

Both plants are owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, which used to be part of Akron-based FirstEnergy. FirstEnergy Solutions is in bankruptcy proceedings and said it will have to shut down the nuclear plants because of its financial situation.  

Nuclear energy does not generate carbon emissions.

"House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford), Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina), and Gov. Mike DeWine have all said they want to take steps to keep those nuclear power plants open,” Bischoff says. “They think it's good in Ohio's energy generation portfolio to have energy that does not emit carbon."

Bischoff has dug intowho’s bankrolling the ad campaign to convince the general public that legislation to help keep the nuclear plants open is a good idea.

"There is this group called Generation Now," Bischoff said. "It is a dark money group. They are bankrolling most of ads, a little over $2 million worth of ads have been placed so far." 

Bischoff notes there are groups funding ads against the bill as well.

"Americans for Prosperity, Ohioans Against Nuclear Bailouts and some consumer group have spent about $300,000,” she says. “It’s all over the airwaves. People are hearing it, seeing it, wondering what’s going on with it."

The financial backers have a stake in the legislation. Bischoff noted that Generation Now lists its treasurer as Lexington, Ky.-based attorney Eric Lycan and its principal address as a property owned by Columbus-based Republican operative Jeff Longstreth.

"Lycan is also listed as treasurer for Growth and Opportunity PAC and Fund," Bischoff said. "The PAC supported Larry Householder and his allies in legislative races last year."

Bischoff also tabulated that FirstEnergy and its PAC (political action committee), since 2014, have  contributed $1.35 million to Ohio political candidates and FirstEnergy has donated another $1.5 million to political parties.

Bischoff explained that HB6 would remove renewable energy efficiency standards and programs that have been part of state law for the past 10 years.

"We do pay certain surcharges for those," she said. "Those would go away. It depends on which electric company provides your power on whether you’d pay more or less with new surcharges that will be about $2.50 a month for residential customers, $25 a month for commercial customers, and up to $2,500 month for industrial users as this special Clean Energy fund fee and that would generate about $300 million a year."

Bischoff estimated 120 different witnesses testified about this proposed legislation, including a gentleman from Vermont whom she later tracked down.

"I wonder why would some guy from Vermont travel all the way to Ohio to give testimony," Bischoff said.

The man shared the story of a nuclear plant closing in the small town where he lives and talked about the devastation the closing caused. Bischoff found out it is the second time he has testified for a nuclear bailout bill in Ohio. Pressing the man further, she discovered that his travel expenses were covered by the Nuclear Energy Institute, of which FirstEnergy is a dues-paying member.  

Bischoff said Householder had hoped to bring HB6 up for a vote the week of May 20, but at this point, he has indicated they arestill working on it.

A Northeast Ohio native, Sarah Taylor graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she worked at her first NPR station, WMUB. She began her professional career at WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and spent two decades in television news, the bulk of them at WKBN in Youngstown (as Sarah Eisler). For the past three years, Sarah has taught a variety of courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, where she is also pursuing a Master’s degree. Sarah and her husband Scott, have two children. They live in Tallmadge.