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Ohio Delays Bill to Bail Out Nuclear and Coal Plants, Gut Renewable Spending

Ohio Delays Bill to Bail Out Nuclear and Coal Plants, Gut Renewable Spending

A setback for House Bill 6, with House and Senate versions at odds. But FirstEnergy’s threat to shutter plants without state support could force final passage next month.  GreenTech Media,  Ohio lawmakers have delayed a critical vote on a controversial energy bill that would charge the state’s utility customers hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize two nuclear power plants that their owner, bankrupt utility FirstEnergy Solutions, has threatened to close without financial support.On Wednesday, the Ohio House of Representatives failed to bring to a vote House Bill 6, forcing the legislature to put off consideration of the bill until it reconvenes in August. House Speaker Larry Householder said the late-night decision was due to the absence of four representatives who planned to vote yes on the bill, adding that the House would “tentatively” take it up again on Aug. 1. ……

Other states, including New YorkIllinois and New Jersey, have given financially struggling nuclear power plants incentives to keep their carbon-free generation capacity running, as part of a broader policy push toward decarbonizing their energy sectors.

An outlier among state nuclear bailout plans

But Ohio’s bill is different, opponents say, because it also guts the state’s energy efficiency spending and renewable energy mandates — something that Ohio’s Republican legislators have been trying to do for years.

HB 6 would also shift the costs of some of the country’s oldest coal-fired power plants from utilities to ratepayers for a decade to come. The result, opponents say, will be higher electric bills, more pollution and reduced investment and innovation in modern energy infrastructure for the state.

The bill would replace today’s monthly surcharges on utility customers’ bills, which now pay for the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy mandates, with a new set of lower surcharges. These will pay for FirstEnergy’s two nuclear power plants, as well as two coal-fired power plants operated by Ohio Valley Electric Corp. (OVEC) and jointly owned by the state’s investor-owned utilities. …….

as opponents including the Union of Concerned ScientistsThe Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council have pointed out, monthly payments for energy efficiency and renewable energy represent investments in lower bills and cleaner energy for Ohio ratepayers. HB 6 ends those investments, in exchange for monthly payments that at their best support out-of-market payments for nuclear power plants, and at their worst help keep some of the state’s worst-performing and polluting coal plants running far past their logical retirement date.

Efficiency, renewables, natural gas and consumers groups are opposed

The Senate version of HB 6 differs from the original House bill’s approach to moving utility funding away from efficiency and renewable energy and toward nuclear and coal subsidies, Neil Waggoner, Ohio campaign representative for the Sierra Club, said in a Tuesday interview.

For example, the House version of the bill would have entirely eliminated Ohio’s current 12.5-percent-by-2026 RPS and cut all the monthly surcharges paying for energy efficiency and demand-reduction programs, which have saved Ohio customers $5.1 billion from 2009 to 2017, according to the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.

But the version passed by the Senate opts for changing the targets for both programs in ways that will effectively end further investment, he said. For the efficiency standard, the bill will reduce today’s top energy-efficiency targets for utilities from 22.2 percent to 17.2 percent — a measure that many of the state’s utilities have likely already achieved — while expanding options for large industrial customers to opt out of paying. …..

HB 6 is being opposed by groups representing residential ratepayers and commercial-industrial energy users that worry it will increase energy prices and undermine free-market energy competition. Competing natural-gas-fired power plant owners are also crying foul, with one, LS Power, threatening this week to end a planned 500-megawatt expansion of its Troy, Ohio facility if HB 6 is passed.

HB 6 does provide $20 million a year, amounting to a total of $140 million through 2026, to support utility-scale solar development, including six solar farms already being built that might have lost funding under previous versions of the bill. And the Senate stripped a House amendment that would have allowed county residents to block wind farm projects on unincorporated land via referendum, even if construction had already begun.

As for the argument that HB 6 was necessary to keep FirstEnergy’s carbon-free nuclear plants up and running, “if we want to have a conversation about keeping carbon emissions in Ohio low, we need to talk about how we replace these nuclear plants with clean energy,” Waggoner said. “The legislature isn’t asking that question. They have never had that question in mind. Their only concern from day one has been how…[to] increase these customer bills to bail out these plants.”

Rains noted that another amendment to HB 6 added this week would weaken the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s oversight of how FirstEnergy, as the company to receive the “clean air credits” to be created by HB 6, spends its money.

“Language supporting annual audits for recipients from the clean air credits program was dropped in favor of much more flexible disclosures by qualifying firms to the commission on an annual basis,” he wrote.

July 20, 2019 - Posted by | business and costs, politics, USA

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