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Ohio Senate votes to remove nuclear power subsidies

Ohio Senate eliminates nuclear subsidies from House Bill 6 Jessie Balmert, Enquirer   COLUMBUS – Lawmakers once touted $1 billion in ratepayer-financed subsidies as essential to saving nuclear plant jobs in northern Ohio. Now, they are ready to repeal those fees. 

Ohio Senate unanimously passed House Bill 128, which would eliminate fees for nuclear plants on Ohioans’ electric bills, ax another fee on FirstEnergy customers’ bills and eliminate another benefit for the Akron-based company.

The legislation, which will soon head to Gov. Mike DeWine, comes two years after Ohio lawmakers passed House Bill 6, saying it was needed to save jobs at the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants in northern Ohio.

Nuclear fees in House Bill 6 made headlines last July when former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four others were arrested in connection to a nearly $61 million bribery scheme to pass the law and defend the legislation against a ballot effort to block it. 

The scandal is one reason why lawmakers wanted to start over on portions of House Bill 6.

“When the story broke about the scandal and what was happening behind the scenes, I along with every member of this General Assembly was angry, disgusted and disappointed in what we were hearing,” said Rep. Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon. “We did not vote for what was happening behind the scenes and in a room somewhere outside the Statehouse.”

But the scandal was not the only reason. The energy landscape has changed since the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature approved $1 billion in fees on Ohioans’ electric bills for nuclear plants now owned by Energy Harbor. 

A late 2019 change from federal utility regulators effectively penalizes companies that receive state subsidies when they sell their power at regional capacity auctions. That means Energy Harbor sees relinquishing the House Bill 6 subsidies as a competitive advantage. 

Those in nuclear power are also banking on Democratic President Joe Biden’s policies hurting their competitors: natural gas. Biden stopped the Keystone XL pipeline and blocked new fracking on federal land

The Ohio Senate passed similar changes in two separate bills, but House Bill 128 was selected as the piece of legislation to hit DeWine’s desk. The bill also includes a review of whether transmission projects – under-scrutinized fees on ratepayers’ bills – are cost-effective. 

House Bill 128 keeps $20 million each year for solar projects. The changes would drop the monthly fee from 85 cents to 10 cents for residential customers and from $2,400 to $242 for industrial customers. Fees already charged on some customers’ bills would be refunded. 

The legislation doesn’t change cuts to energy efficiency incentives, fees for two coal plants owned by Piketon-based Ohio Valley Electric Corporation or eliminated mandates to incorporate renewable energy into the mix. Those topics could be addressed later.  Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, said she would continue to advocate for a full repeal. 

The House must approve some technical changes before the bill hits DeWine’s desk. 

March 25, 2021 - Posted by | politics international, USA

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