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Ohio Attorney General Sues FirstEnergy To Halt Nuclear Bailout Payments

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

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is attempting to block the state's two nuclear power plants from receiving some $1.1 billion in ratepayer money from HB6, the nuclear bailout law passed last year. Yost filed a civil case in court Wednesday based off the findings of a recent federal corruption investigation.

Federal investigators say a utility believed to be FirstEnergy and other companies played a role in a $61 million bribery scheme that helped pass HB6 into law. Yost says hislawsuit,filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, will stop the defendants from receiving the subsidies, created through rate increases on electric bills next year.  

"Because it is essentially ill-gotten gains, that corrupt activity should not result in a monetary advantage for the people who acted corruptly," Yost says.

The case names Energy Harbor as one of the defendants. Energy Harbor used to be known as FirstEnergy Solutions, which was a subsidiary of FirstEnergy before restructuring. Energy Harbor owns the two nuclear power plants in Ohio, set to receive $150 million in annual subsidies created through HB6.

The revenue for those subsidies are raised through new charges on electric bills scheduled to begin in January 2021. Yost says it is up to the Ohio General Assembly whether those new charges are applied. They could be avoided through a repeal of HB6, which is currently being debated in the House and Senate.

If the repeal process drags on, Yost's action raises the possibility of money being collected from Ohio ratepayers but not being distributed to energy companies.

"It stays in the treasury until the General Assembly reacts or until the lawsuit's resolved, and then it would go out according to whatever the law says at that moment," Yost says.

A spokesperson for FirstEnergy issued a statement after the lawsuit was filed.

"While, as a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation, our CEO Chuck Jones said during a recent earnings call that he believes FirstEnergy acted properly in this matter and intends to ensure our Company and our role in supporting HB6 is understood as accurately as possible," the statement read. "Ethical behavior and upholding the highest standards of conduct are foundational values for the entire FirstEnergy family. We strive to apply these standards in all business dealings, including our participation in the political process."

The lawsuit also requests specific penalties for the defendants that have been indicted in the federal racketeering investigation, including former House Speaker Larry Householder. Yost requests the court to bar defendants from holding any government office or position in a political organization for eight years, ban them from lobbying for eight years, and pay damages.

While the Ohio House voted to remove Householder as Speaker, it did not move to eject him from the legislature. Householder is running unopposed for reelection this fall, although several candidates have been certified as write-ins.

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.