A corrupt bailout for dinosaur power plants that screws renewable energy in the process.
Amid a flurry of ambitious state action on climate change policy, the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature has just passed an energy bill that represents an enormous step backward. It is the most counterproductive and corrupt piece of state energy legislation I can recall in all my time covering this stuff — the details must be seen to be believed.
The bill, just signed by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, is called HB 6. Though the story behind it is complex and sordid, the bill itself is pretty simple. It would do four things:
- Bail out two nuclear plants: From 2021 until 2027, Ohio ratepayers will pay a new monthly surcharge on their electricity bills, from 85 cents for residential customers up to $2,400 for big industrial customers. The surcharge will produce about $170 million a year; $150 million of that will be used by the utility FirstEnergy Solutions to subsidize its two big nuclear power plants — Davis-Besse, outside of Toledo, and Perry, northeast of Cleveland — which it claims are losing money and will be closed in the next couple of years without bailouts. The remaining $20 million will be divided among six existing solar projects in rural areas of the state. (Note: As we’ll discuss below, nuclear power plants generate low-carbon energy and are worth saving. But not like this.)
- Bail out two coal plants: FirstEnergy customers across Ohio will pay an additional monthly surcharge ($1.50 for residential customers; up to $1,500 for big industrials) to help bail out two old, hyper-polluting coal plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (a collective owned by several large utilities), one in Ohio, one in Indiana.
- Gut renewable energy standards: Ohio has one of the oldest renewable portfolio standards in the country, requiring its utilities to get 12.5 percent of their power from renewables by 2027. The bill reduces the target to 8.5 percent by 2026, exempts large industrial customers, and kills the standard after 2026, effectively nullifying any incentive for new renewable energy development in the state.
- Gut energy efficiency standards: Ohio utilities are required to reduce customers’ energy use 22 percent from 2008 levels by 2027 through energy efficiency programs (which were set to save Ohio ratepayers $4 billion over the next 10 years). HB 6 allows utilities to abandon those programs entirely once they hit 17.5 percent, a level most have almost reached already.
To summarize: The bill would subsidize four uncompetitive power plants, remove all incentive to build more renewable energy projects, and cancel efforts to help customers use less energy. It is a bill only a utility (and the lawmakers who do its bidding) could love, an extravagant gift to utility investors that hoses Ohio ratepayers.