Big money pushes for energy bill; consumer groups oppose it

The push to bailout Ohio’s aging nuclear energy plants is taking to the airwaves with TV and radio spots running across the state and in neighboring Kentucky and West Virginia.

Generation Now, a secretive political money group, is bankrolling the ad campaign, Federal Elections Commission records show. And the buys – more than $225,000 — are being made by Strategic Media Placement, a Delaware County firm run by GOP operative Rex Elsass.

It’s the latest strategic move by the nuclear energy industry, which has forcefully supported House Bill 6. The pending legislation would eliminate existing renewable energy and energy efficiency mandates and surcharges and replace them with new fees applied to 4.8 million electricity customer bills across Ohio. The money would be used for a new grant program that would dish out $9.25 for each megawatt of carbon-free energy generated.

The bill is pending in the Ohio House.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Consumer Power Alliance, which opposes the bill, launched a radio ad campaign targeted in the legislative districts of six key lawmakers, including Republicans Nino Vitale of Urbana and Niraj Antani of Miamisburg.

Related: Ohioans could be charged more electric fees

First Energy Solutions, a spin off of Akron-based First Energy Corp., could be eligible for more than half of the $300 million a year the new surcharge would generate. FES, which filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2018, announced plans to close its two nuclear power plants along Lake Erie unless it receives a government bailout.

Generation Now is a 501c4 – the section of IRS code that describes social welfare groups. It is not required to disclose its contributors. Its treasurer is D. Eric Lycan, an attorney based in Lexington with ties to the Kentucky House Republican leadership caucus. Generation Now’s principle address is property owned by Jeff Longstreth, a Columbus-based Republican operator.

Lycan is also listed as the treasurer for Growth & Opportunity PAC and the Growth & Opportunity Fund, another 501c4 organization. Growth & Opportunity PAC supported Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and his allies in legislative races last year.

First Energy Solutions’ allies pushing for HB6 include the Nuclear Energy Institute, which receives $1.27 million in annual dues from First Energy Operating Co., according to bankruptcy filings.

The nuclear power industry argues that its plants provide clean, safe and reliable electricity around the clock – not subject to whether the wind blows or the sun shines. FES plants employ 1,300 workers.

On the second day of testimony on HB6, Josh Unruh of Vernon, Vermont told Ohio lawmakers how a nuclear power plant shutdown impacted his small New England town. He choked up from emotion as he told his story.

What Unruh left unsaid was who paid his expenses to travel to Ohio for the second time to lend support for a nuclear bailout bill. When reached by this newspaper, Unruh acknowledged that the agency that pays his expenses to testify for bailouts in multiple states is connected to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Regardless of who is paying the tab, Unruh said he strongly believes in warning communities about the harm in shutting down power plants. Unruh said “I really have no idea who pays my airfare and in the end I don’t care.”

First Energy and FES have made campaign donations to Ohio politicians — something that Householder has said has no bearing on the new energy bill. Householder supports the bill.

Since 2014, FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy PAC have contributed $1.35 million to Ohio political candidates, including $61,957 to the campaign and transition funds for Gov. Mike DeWine and his running mate Jon Husted. FirstEnergy also donated another $1.56 million since 2014 to political parties in Ohio.

Other money flows directly from First Energy employees to Ohio political candidates: $132,797 since 2014. In October 2018, FirstEnergy Chief Executive Chuck Jones donated $12,700 worth of food and beverage to the DeWine Husted campaign in October 2018, records show.

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