Ohio House passes controversial energy bill changing electric fees

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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The Ohio House voted 53-43 in favor of a controversial energy bill

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The Ohio House voted 53-43 in favor of a controversial energy bill that will require Ohio’s 4.8 million electric customers to pay fees that will be used to subsidize two aging nuclear power plants and two coal-fired plants, including one in Indiana.

House Bill 6 would wipe out surcharges currently paid by consumers for renewable energy, energy efficiency and peak demand reduction programs — fees that combined cost DP&L customers $1.69 per month, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

But it’ll add $1 per month to residential consumers to create a new fund that will give subsidies to power generators, including FirstEnergy Solutions, which has said it will close its two nuclear plants unless it receives government help. The bill will also do away with energy efficiency programs, which advocates say save consumers money, and will extend a $2.50 per month charge through 2030 for Ohio Valley Electric Corp. coal plants.

RELATED: Ohio lawmakers set to vote on energy bill that changes electric fees

Supporters of the bill say overall, it’ll reduce electric bills for residential customers, save jobs, and protect Ohio-based power generating plants.

Opponents — environmental and consumer groups, free-market think tanks, and others — disputed whether customers would save money, questioned why the state would offer a bailout for nuclear and coal plants, and argued against dismantling laws that support renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.

A new report from economist Paul Sotkiewicz of E-Cubed Policy Associates argues that the nuclear power plants are profitable and don’t need a government bailout. The American Petroleum Institute, which opposes HB6, funded the report.

FirstEnergy Solutions, a spin-off of Akron-based FirstEnergy, last year filed for bankruptcy protection and announced plans to shut the two nuclear plants, unless it gets government subsidies.

State Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, former House speaker, questioned whether FES needs the bailout. “Did anybody see their books? We’re taking their word for it,” he said. Ratepayers will have to support FES creditors, who are bond holders in New York, he said.

He argued against government interference in a competitive energy market.

Customers will also forego future savings when mandated energy efficiency programs are eliminated under the bill. The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance reported the the energy efficiency programs have saved Ohio customers $5.1 billion between 2009 and 2017.

A dark money group, Generation Now, paid out $2.7 million for TV, radio and online ads urging support of the bill. Opponents spent another $300,000 on ads.

State Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, noted that the renewable energy and energy efficiency programs were put in place a decade ago to address climate change. He pointed to more than 50 tornadoes hitting the same evening across the U.S., including nine in the Miami Valley, as evidence that stopping climate change destruction is imperative.

The 53 yes votes included several Democrats.

Miami Valley lawmakers voting yes: Niraj Antani, John Becker, Jim Butler, Sara Carruthers, George Lang, Scott Lipps, Rick Perales, Phil Plummer, Nino Vitale and Paul Zeltwanger.

Those voting no: Bill Dean, Candice Keller, Kyle Koehler, Susan Manchester, Jena Powell, J. Todd Smith, and Fred Strahorn.

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