Environmentalists and consumer advocates on Tuesday warned that a bill pending in the Ohio House would pile more costs onto consumers and stifle renewable energy and conservation programs.
House Bill 6 calls for charging electric customers across Ohio new fees — about $300 million a year — and giving the money to businesses that generate zero carbon emission energy and those that make improvements to reduce carbon emissions. The biggest potential beneficiary would be FirstEnergy Solutions, which has plans to close two aging nuclear power plants along Lake Erie unless it gets a government bailout.
New monthly fees — $2.50 for residential, $20 for commercial, $250 for industrial and $2,500 for very large users — would be collected from all 4.8 million electric utility customers in Ohio.
Also, the bill would wipe out mandates for renewable energy and energy efficiency but allow utility companies to continue charging customers for the efficiency programs.
“In addition to footing the bill to bailout FirstEnergy’s two outdated nuclear plants, Ohio consumers would be left holding the bag for clean energy programs that would no longer exist. The legislation effectively repeals the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, but clears the way for utilities to continue billing their customers for the benefits they will no longer receive,” said Tracy Sabetta, of the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance.
Related: New energy bill could cost Ohio consumers $300M a year
Also in the bill, energy companies could receive up to $9.25 for every carbon-free megawatt of energy they generate. Fossil fuel power companies that take steps to reduce their carbon emissions would also be eligible for grant money.
Renewable energy groups said that wind and solar projects are largely left out in the proposed new program. “The way it is constructed excludes every existing solar project in the state,” according to testimony from Luke Sulfridge, Ohio director of Solar United Neighbors.
The new fees would replace current surcharges that customers pay for renewable energy mandates, energy efficiency programs and peak demand reduction provisions.
For big energy users the proposed $250 to $2,500 in monthly fees would be a big break over the $3,500 to $22,600 in average monthly surcharges they pay now. That could prompt big businesses to support the bill.
For residential customers, whether they would pay more or less depends on how much electricity they use and where they live in Ohio. DP&L residential customers would likely pay more under HB6 — $2.50 per month compared with an average of $1.69 now, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio data.
The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance analysis shows that keeping Ohio’s energy efficiency standards from 2008 to 2025 will save consumers nearly $5.6 billion in avoided energy costs. AEP Ohio executives said the energy efficiency programs, such as improved lighting, old refrigerator recycling or home energy audits, has saved AEP customers $1 billion over the past decade.
American Petroleum Institute Vice President Todd Snitchler, a former lawmaker and former chairman of the PUCO, said HB6 should “die in the cradle” because it’ll have a chilling effect on new energy generation, distort the energy market place and lead to projects to be put on hold.
The bill, introduced April 12, is drawing interest from utilities, businesses, consumer groups and environmentalists.
Opponents include: Green Energy Ohio, AARP Ohio, Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Ohio Citizen Action and Ohio Consumers Power Alliance. Supporters include: FirstEnergy Solutions, Nuclear Energy Institute, the city of Akron, Lake County, Summit County and others.
House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, has said he hopes to hold a floor vote on it in May. Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, and Gov. Mike DeWine have both expressed support for taking steps to keep FES nuclear power plants open.