House nears vote to repeal nuclear plant bailout

“We need to hit the reset button and start from scratch here,” state Rep. Jeffrey Crossman (D., Parma) said. “We can’t continue this nonsense of pretending that the corruption didn’t happen.”

By: JIM PROVANCE | The Blade, Toledo (TNS)  

COLUMBUS — A House committee Tuesday set the stage for a full chamber vote to partly repeal provisions of a state law at the heart of a $61 million Ohio Statehouse bribery scandal.

The full Ohio House of Representatives was expected to vote Wednesday.

This would mark the House’s first action to undo a $1 billion, consumer-financed bailout of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant near Oak Harbor and the Perry plant east of Cleveland. That law has come to epitomize shady, backroom dealing hidden even to those lawmakers ultimately manipulated to get it passed.

Two players and a nonprofit, dark-money corporation have already pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges carrying up 20 years in prison for the individuals. Three others — including former House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) — face similar charges.

The House Public Utilities Committee voted 14-3 to send to the full chamber House Bill 128, sponsored by state Reps. Jim Hoops (R., Napoleon) and Dick Stein (R., Norwalk). It would repeal some portions of House Bill 6 but keep others.

“We need to hit the reset button and start from scratch here,” state Rep. Jeffrey Crossman (D., Parma) said. “We can’t continue this nonsense of pretending that the corruption didn’t happen.”

Hoops, the committee’s chairman, said everyone is upset over the scandal.

“I think the courts are going to take care of that issue,” he said, saying he expects bills to come before the panel addressing other elements of House Bill 6.

House Bill 128 would stop the plan to funnel $150 million a year for seven years to the nuclear plants’ owner, Energy Harbor. The two plants directly employ about 1,400 people.

Other repealed provisions would have locked in high annual profits for Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. regardless of what happened in the electricity marketplace.

After months of indecision about how to proceed after the indictments eight months ago, some decisions have suddenly become easier.

Federal policy changes that penalize electricity generators that accept government subsidies prompted Energy Harbor to tell Ohio it no longer wants the money.

And under scrutiny and litigation for its alleged bankrolling of much of the bribery scheme, FirstEnergy Corp. has told the state it will not take advantage of the so-called “decoupling” mechanism that could have meant more than $100 million in extra profits this year.

The committee kept the portion of the now tainted House Bill 6 that provides $20 million a year to for utility-scale solar projects, but it capped the monthly surcharge to residential customers at a dime.

Almost on cue, the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority approved $70 million in bond financing for Aurora Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Connecticut-based Avangrid Renewables, which plans a 400-acre, utility-scale project in Van Wert County’s Union Township. It will comprise of more than 146,000 solar modules annually producing 103.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

State Rep. Laura Lanese (R., Grove City) tried without success to repeal a House Bill 6 provision subsidizing a multiutility consortium that owns two 1950s-era, coal-fired power plants in southern Ohio and southeast Indiana. They once served a now shuttered uranium enrichment plant near Piketon, Ohio.

American Electric Power is the biggest shareholder of the Ohio Valley Electric Corp., while three FirstEnergy subsidiaries hold a minor stake.

House Bill 6 took surcharges previously applied to customers of the member utilities and spread them across Ohio to all electricity customers. Those surcharges are set to expire in 2030.

State Rep. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) opposed the Lanese amendment, noting OVEC has entered into refinancing of debt it had taken on to pay for environmental upgrades.

Lanese said it was unfair for ratepayers to be stuck with those costs “in perpetuity until 2030, if not 2040,” by which time the plants will be nearly 80 years old.

“No offense to the Hoosiers, but I don’t think our Ohio constituents should be bailing out and paying for these bad business decisions made over 10 years ago in the face of our deregulated market,” she said. “Yes, these two coal plants served a good purpose while they were a part of the Piketon uranium enrichment plant.”

FirstEnergy Corp. and related entities are believed to have been the deep pockets behind the scheme to funnel cash through a nonprofit corporation to help elect lawmakers loyal to Mr. Householder in 2018. The scheme then continued to help elect him speaker, get House Bill 6 to the governor’s desk, and kill a subsequent petition effort to subject the law to voter referendum.

The Ohio Senate has already passed two bills — one killing the nuclear bailout that would have benefited Energy Harbor and the revenue guarantee provisions benefiting FirstEnergy Corp. It remains to be seen which will reach Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk.


Scroll to top