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Ohio Lawmakers Looking At Different Options For Potential Nuclear Bailout Repeal

The Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, Ohio
Dan Konik
Ohio Public Radio
The Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, Ohio

An Ohio Senate committee held a hearing on two different pieces of legislation that address the sweeping energy law, HB6, which creates more than $1 billion in subsidies for nuclear and coal plants.

Legislators now have three options in front of them to deal with the bailout connected to a $61 million corruption case: Keep the law in place, repeal it or partially repeal the law.

There are three bills (HB738, HB746, SB346) that all seek a full repeal of HB6. Those measures also have bipartisan support, and the House bills received several hearings in the House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight.

State Rep. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario) is offering another option, HB772, a partial repeal of the bailout law. It would eliminate the ratepayer subsidies bound for nuclear, coal, and solar plants, which total $20 million a year, but retain the cuts HB6 makes to renewable energy standards and the elimination of the energy efficiency standards.

"It is irresponsible and unnecessary for this body or the PUCO to be engaged in any policy that affects the generation market," Romanchuk told the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee on Tuesday.

But supporters of a full repeal say the entire process to pass HB6 is tainted by a $61 million bribery scheme, which some defendants have already pleaded guilty to.

Federal prosecutors say a utility, believed to be FirstEnergy, funneled millions of dollars to a dark money organization that helped lobby and campaign for HB6 – and then fight a referendum campaign aimed at overturning the law. Authorities say one of the central figures was former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, who has pleaded not guilty.

The bill, which was signed into law July 2019, accomplishes several items on FirstEnergy's legislative agenda for the past decade, including rolling back the clean energy standards.

Miranda Leppla, vice president of energy policy for the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, says Romanchuk's bill does not go far enough.

"It overlooks the least costly resource out there, energy efficiency,"  Leppla said in a written statement. "If the Ohio General Assembly desires to reduce harmful emissions and lower energy bills, state policy must invest in energy efficiency and also signal that Ohio is open for clean energy business. Given our existing barriers and lack of incentives for efficiency, companies will choose to invest resources and money in other states that are more welcoming to clean energy innovation."

The legislature has until the end of the year to make a decision on HB6 before new charges begin to appear on electric bills that collect the revenue for the power plant subsidies. Supporters of HB6 say the elimination of the clean energy standards offset the new subsidies, a claim that is disputed by opponents.

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.