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House Committee Passes Energy Bill Bailing Out Nuclear, Dropping Renewables

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.

Opponents are outraged over changes made to the so-called “clean air” bill approved by a House committee. The legislation subsidizes nuclear and coal plants, repeals required support for renewable energy and strips the ability for wind and solar to receive credits.

House Democrats say it’s obvious Republican leaders are turning their backs on the renewables industry.

Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) says carving wind and solar out of the “clean air” credits program make this bill is a big step in the wrong direction.

“This is a slap in the face to Ohioans. To me the world’s upside down cause we’ve got a growing industry, bringing clean air, helping kids and families,” Weinstein says.

The previous bill would have created the Ohio Clean Air Program, charging residential ratepayers $2.50 a month with higher charges for commercial and industrial users, generating a pot of $300 million for “clean air” credits. That money would go mostly to nuclear plants but also wind and solar.

Now, the bill only charges $1 a month for residents for a pot of $190 million. And because wind and solar are cut, most of the money goes to nuclear power.

Republicans were split over the bill, and Democrats were skeptical. Before the major changes were implemented, Democrats had proposed increasing the renewable energy standards - which Republicans oppose. They hoped Republican leadership would make those changes to the bill to bring in more bipartisan support.

But now, as Weinstein says, “It just removes the pretense and the theatrics from it. It’s a corporate bailout.”

There’s a sense among critics of the bill that specifically writing solar and wind out of what’s dubbed a “clean air” bill is a complete dismissal of the industry.

However House Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) says of wind and solar industry.

“They were not interested in having a fund that they could access for clean energy,” Vitale says.

The wind and solar industries have been fighting against the bill’s repeal of the renewable energy standards.

The changes are a complete shift in what has been Ohio’s alternative energy policy for more than 10 years. In 2009, state lawmakers almost unanimously approved the renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, requiring utilities to invest in those sources.

However it’s no secret that House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and many of his fellow Republicans don’t like those policies.

“They’ve been in place 11 years. And we have 3% of this state’s generation in renewable and only 2% of that solar or wind. So it’s been a complete failure,” Householder says.

The bill also takes on another lingering energy issue. The Ohio Valley Electric Corporation, or OVEC, owns two coal plants: the Kyger Creek Plant near Gallipolis and the Clifty Creek Plant in Indiana.

The energy bill writes in Ohio law that utilities can continue charging customers up to $2.50 a month for subsidies that help prop up those coal plants through 2030. This could help avoid any potential rejection in future PUCO rate cases.

As Trish Demeter with the Ohio Environmental Council ActionFund summarizes, “This bill is not an all of the above approach whatsoever. The bill favors heavily coal and nuclear power. And totally crushes renewable energy opportunity in the state.”

With the nuclear and coal subsidy language combined, residential ratepayers could see a total charge of $3.50 a month on their electric bills. Republican supporters say that’s better than the $4.39 on average residents paid for renewable and efficiency programs.

However, supporters of the efficiency programs say they have helped bring down the bottom line of monthly electric bills.

It’s still unknown whether the bill has enough support to get voted out of the House chamber.

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.