As the calendar moved from 2020 to 2021, the Ohio Legislature chose not to act on the corruption that tarnished the State. If a $60 million bribery scandal doesn’t motivate the House and Senate to take initiative, I am not sure what will. The passage of House Bill 6 gave over a billion dollars to two nuclear power plants and essentially a blank check for two 65-year-old coal plants, one of which is in Indiana. The bill also provided tidbits for other special interests such as subsidies for specific solar developers and two programs to protect FirstEnergy’s profits. There were four bills that were written and more than a dozen hearings in both chambers on repealing and/or replacing HB 6, but nothing was done to stop the scandal-tainted bill. The bills that were written included everything from a full repeal of HB 6 to select removal of certain provisions of the bill.
The most promising bill for electric customers in Ohio was HB 772. It not only removed the subsidies for the nuclear and coal plant bailouts but also eliminated the renewable and energy efficiency mandates; this bill would have put hundreds of millions of dollars back in consumers’ pockets. Unfortunately, it got very little traction, as with much of the activity around HB 6, and the benefits to customers were not considered.
The bill that received the most attention, at least in the House, was HB 798. This legislation kept the coal and nuclear subsidies while removing some of the trinkets that were given to the FirstEnergy utilities. It also attempted to improve the examination of the financial state of the nuclear plants. This was actually a good thing as the nuclear plant owners were never required to show the plants were not making money all while filings in bankruptcy court showed the nuclear plants were one of the few profitable aspects of the failing business. Yes, the Ohio Legislature gave two nuclear power plants over $1 billion without requiring them to show they need that money to continue operating. This bill never saw a vote in the House.
But alas, all these bills failed because the legislature failed to respond to the corruption that was uncovered by four arrests of people involved in the passage of HB 6, including the Speaker of the House. No one that supported HB 6 lost their races in November, so they read this as Ohioans supporting what they are doing, even though a poll earlier this year showed 70 percent of Ohioans opposed the nuclear subsidies in HB 6. Why would they listen to polls if they are continuing to be re-elected?
The good news is that the Ohio Supreme Court has stayed any collection of subsidies from customers. But this is a temporary solution, the legislature must remove this from the law and prevent the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) from subsidizing any form of generation in the future. The legislature needs to embrace the competitive markets, both wholesale and retail; this is the best way to provide customers with reliable, efficient, low-cost power. Out-of-market subsidies to uneconomic generation harms Ohio electric customers by distorting the price signals of where to place new, efficient generation. Further, Ohio is on top of a large natural gas reserve, and instead of tapping this reserve and encouraging investment in a new natural gas generator, it has decided to cling to the past and old, inefficient generation. Ohio needs to fully embrace the wholesale electric markets and the benefits they provide to consumers.
Image credit: Randall Vermillion