Government

Ohio House Suspends Hearings on Nuclear Plant Bailout

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – The Ohio House of Representative’s decision to suspend hearings on legislation that would allow FirstEnergy Solutions to charge higher rates to subsidize its nuclear power plants is a positive development for consumers and the Mahoning Valley, Mayor Arno Hill said Thursday.

“This is nothing but a bailout, plain and simple,” Hill said two days after he testified before the House Public Utilities Committee in Columbus.

Ohio House Public Utilities Committee Chairman Bill Seitz on Wednesday suspended testimony on H.B. 178, which would allow FirstEnergy to hike rates about 5% in order to help pay for its two aging nuclear power plants it operates in Ohio. The increase would amount to about $5.25 billion over 16 years.

Similar legislation, however, is still working its way through the Ohio Senate.

The legislation has met with stiff resistance by non-utility energy companies that are building more efficient natural gas- fueled energy production plants.

One of those plants — the $900 million Lordstown Energy Center, owned by Clean Energy Future — is under construction in Lordstown. Hill said these projects enjoy a broad range of support across the region. “I told them that this project has a significant financial impact, not only on Lordstown, but on neighboring communities such as Niles and Warren.”

Clean Energy Future announced plans earlier this year to build a second $900 million electrical generation plant in Lordstown – the Trumbull Energy Center. But the company ‘s president, Bill Siderewicz, has said that those plans could be derailed should legislation such as H.B. 178 pass.

Hill said these projects employ hundreds of tradesmen, and suspending hearings on the bill is a step in the right direction in defeating the measure. “I’m hoping the second project closes out during the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of next year,” he said. “All of these companies should compete on a level playing field.”

Other groups also applauded the House Committee’s decision.

The 50-member Coalition Against Nuclear Bailouts — which includes organizations such as AARP, the American Petroleum Institute of Ohio and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association – commended the committee’s decision.

“If House Bill 178 passed, the families and businesses of Northwest Ohio and the rest of FirstEnergy’s territory would have to foot the hefty bill,” Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said in a statement. “Further, this proposed bailout would pick winners and losers in the energy generation market and could drive private investment, jobs, and tax revenues for local governments and schools out of Lucas County and other areas of the state.”

AARP’s Trey Addison said his organization thought the bill placed additional burdens to those over 50 living on fixed incomes. “Customers should be able to purchase their electricity in a competitive market, and should not be forced to pay more for electricity than they should to a subsidized private business.”

Hearings on a similar bill in the Ohio Senate’s Public Utility Committee are underway. FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones testified before that committee on Thursday morning, and the coalition said it would monitor the legislation as it makes its way through the Senate.

Dick Munson, director of Midwest Clean Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, applauded Ohio’s action in a statement yesterday.

“The decision reflects the growing, diverse coalition that is challenging the unnecessary subsidies to FirstEnergy, which would raise electricity rates and hurt the state’s economy,” Munson said. “We hope Ohio policymakers will instead focus on spurring investment and innovation in reliable, efficient, and clean energy markets.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.