Ohio Clean Air Act nearing the finish line, overdue for FirstEnergy Solutions deadline

State News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Ohio Senate is moving to meet a July 17 deadline to decide on a bailout for the operators of Ohio’s nuclear power plants.

FirstEnergy Solutions initially told lawmakers their investors needed to know by July 1 if the State was going to help them with a bailout to the tune of $150 million annually. When the statehouse failed to meet that deadline, FirstEnergy shifted the deadline to July 17.

A new version of a House Bill was accepted by the Senate committee Monday. The Committee plans to entertain amendments on Wednesday and tentatively plans to vote the bill out of committee and send it to the floor of the Senate on that same day.

Lawmakers have about 48 hours to get their amendments in order and submitted if they want a shot at getting them added to the bill.

Monday, the Democrats were kept in the dark about what was in the bill until committee was convened. Democrat lawmakers on the other side of the aisle are learning what is in the bill at the same time as the public.

As it is currently written, the bill gives FirstEnergy Solutions what it wants — $150 million annually. However, it carries strings.

The company will have to submit to annual reviews, as Chairman of the committee State Senator Steve Wilson calls them.

“FirstEnergy Solutions has worked very closely with us to get to the point where they’re comfortable with the review that we are asking for,” said Wilson.

The review would be conducted by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

If the plants get to the point where they don’t need the funding, the amount can be reduced or even eliminated.

To pay for this, the State is going to have citizens pay for the bailout on their electric bills.

The bill calls to add an $0.85 charge to electric bills and an additional $1.00 charge to help offset the cost of two coal-fired OVEC power plants, one of which is in Indiana.

Because adding more charges to residents’ electric bills would be a pretty unpopular move, the statehouse plans to remove some fees as well.

The plan is to get rid of the fees that go toward paying for energy efficiency programs, totaling about $4.85 per bill. Depending on which utility residents use, they could save between $0.69 and $3.88 per month by 2021.

Dayton Power and Light customers will see the least of these savings at $0.69 while Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company customers seeing the $3.88 savings, with other customers falling somewhere in between.

Those savings are straight savings based on the fees. What isn’t taken into account is what the bills will look like without energy efficency programs the $4.85 fee was paying for, according to Dan Sawmiller with the Natural Resource Defense Council.

According to Sawmmiller, with the current programs and fees in place, a company is incentivized by the available program dollars to install energy efficient lightbulbs. Those lightbulbs use less electricity and lower the overall electric bill for that company.

Sawmiller said that without the current programs and fees in place, a company has no financial incentive to offset the purchase the sometimes costly higher efficiency equipment so they buy the cheaper less efficient version, and run that less efficient equipment resulting in higher overall electricity usage. The higher usage results in a higher bill.

Republicans who support the bill said Sawmiller’s argument is a philosophical one and politically based. They do not believe his scenario and said technology will advance to be inherently more efficient.

The bill also changes a few other things.

It removes mandates for renewable energy generation.

The new bill says that if a utility can reach 17.5% renewable energy by next year, they are good; if they can’t, then they need to work with the PUCO to come up with a timetable for when they will.

Once they reach 17.5%, however, they don’t have to maintain it.

During the introduction of the new bill, Wilson talked about how the Senate took a 100+ page bill and trimmed out so much it is nearly half the size now, coming in around 66-pages.

Some of the things that were stripped out of the House version of the bill include emissions checks, a referendum on wind projects that would have allowed citizens to possibly vote to block a wind project, as well as a proposal for a Federal Energy Regulation Commission report.

In the meantime, the millions of dollars spent on television and radio advertising continues to prompt citizens to reach out to their lawmakers and tell them to vote “yes” or “no” on the bill that has gone through so many changes, it is quite different than when it began.

“There is a lot of confusing advertising and marketing, radio ads, and people are right to be confused by the messages that they’re hearing. The truth is, at the end of the day, House Bill 6 is going to raise your energy bill in the State of Ohio,” said Sawmiller.

As for Wilson, he says this is the best bill possible.

“We’ve worked very hard on it and tried to accommodate all concerns that we possibly could,” he said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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