Lawmakers revise plan to rescue Ohio’s nuclear plants


By John Seewer - Associated Press



TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio lawmakers have rolled out a revised proposal to financially rescue the state’s two nuclear power plants following complaints from utilities and environmental groups about the original plan.

But the changes haven’t satisfied those who say it still amounts to a bailout for the nuclear industry at the expense of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

The revised plan announced Thursday calls for phasing in the proposed surcharges for every electric bill in the state — residential customers would pay 50 cents a month in the 2020 and then see that increase the following year to $2.50 monthly.

Businesses and industrial customers would pay more — anywhere from an extra $20 to $2,500 per month after the first year.

Beginning in 2021, the surcharges would generate about $300 million each year, with about half of that going to the two nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions.

The company has said that both — the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo and the Perry plant near Cleveland — will close by 2021 unless the government eases the cost of operating them.

Closing them would mean the loss of at least 1,500 jobs and millions in tax money for schools and local governments.

Republicans who control the Ohio House and back the plan that would save the plants say the new surcharges won’t cost electricity users more money because the legislation also will eliminate existing charges meant to increase investment in renewable energy and to fund programs that improve energy efficiency.

Opponents argue that electricity bills will increase because the efficiency incentives that are targeted for elimination help residents use less power — whether that’s through buying energy-saving appliances or upgrading heating and cooling systems in businesses.

“If you’re buying more energy, you’re spending more money,” said Leo Almeida, a policy and energy analyst with The Nature Conservancy in Ohio.

Environmental groups also contend that eliminating the renewable energy standards that require power companies to generate more energy from non-polluting sources will be bad for the health of Ohioans.

That’s because the legislation, as it stands now, would push the state back toward more traditional energy sources, said Trish Demeter of the Ohio Environmental Council.

“It’s not all of the above,” she said. “It’s favoring coal, nuclear and natural gas.”

The revised proposal now calls for a review to determine whether the surcharges are still needed after 10 years and also would gradually get rid of the renewable and efficiency standards instead of doing that right away.

Three of the other major electric utilities that operate in Ohio raised concerns about allowing an immediate end to the standards.

“Energy efficiency creates value for all customers by reducing the amount of energy and capacity required across the entire system,” Amy Spiller, president of Duke Energy Ohio, told lawmakers last month.

She suggested they at least allow the standards to be phased out, so the energy companies could adjust to the change.

By John Seewer

Associated Press