Ohio Senate approves controversial energy bill; final approval still pending

Senate Energy Committee Chairman Steve Wilson, R-Mainville, said the legislation would keep the nuclear plants open and reduce montjly electricity bills for residential customers by $2.82 initially and by $3.78 eventually.

“At the end of the day, the winner in this legislation is the ratepayer,” he said.

In its current form, the bill would add an 80-cent per month charge to residential customers to raise up to $150 million a year in subsidies to keep open nuclear plants owned by First Energy Solutions. FES would need to open its books to state regulators to qualify for the subsidies.

It would also authorize $1.50 per month charge to residential customers for two coal-fired plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corp. AEP, Dayton Power & Light and Duke Energy are among utilities that hold an ownership stake in the OVEC plants.

Supporters of the bill said nuclear power is an important source of clean energy and they argued that the First Energy Solutions-owned plants provide 1,400 good-paying jobs in communities along Lake Erie.

Opponents called the bill a case of government picking winners and losers and favoring one industry over another. State Sen. Joe Uecker, R-Miami Twp., said the bailout sets a “bad precedent.” Scaling back mandates for utilities to buy energy from renewable sources and offer efficiency programs will lead to losses of jobs and investment elsewhere in Ohio, he said.

Related: Big money pushes for energy bill

It is unclear if the House will agree to Senate changes to the bill, which has been the subject of intense lobbying and more than $10 million in TV ads.

Time for further debate is running out.

FES, which filed for bankruptcy and announced plans to close the plants, initially told lawmakers it needed a decision on whether Ohio would authorize subsidies by June 30. When legislators blew through that deadline, FES signaled it could wait until early August.

Daniel Sawmiller, Ohio energy policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a written statement: “Ohio is the only state in the country bailing out extremely old coal and nuclear plants and paying for it by gutting its clean energy standards. This bill is a giant step backwards for Ohio and we will see the consequences for years to come as our bills rise and our clean energy jobs plummet. Other states in the region will certainly appreciate the opportunity to hoover up the jobs coming out of the growing clean energy sector.”

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