A colorful piece of mail has been arriving in Highland County mailboxes in recent weeks, warning residents that China “is quietly invading our energy grid and coming for our Ohio jobs.”
The 6-inch by 11-inch flyer is the latest affair in the tug of war campaign being mounted by those for and against the recently signed House Bill 6.
“I think every registered voter in Ohio got this,” said Gene Pierce, spokesman for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, a consumer group opposed to the legislation. “It is so ridiculous it’s unbelievable.”
Supporters of House Bill 6, which was co-authored by state Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro), refer to the energy-driven legislation as an economic development bill that will enable Ohio to go from an importer of energy to a generator and exporter of energy.
Detractors of the measure, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Dewine on July 23, called it “an energy bill disguised as a nuclear plant bailout.”
As previously reported, the measure would add a new fee to electric bills for consumers in Ohio, with 90 percent of the revenue going to help bail out a pair of nuclear power plants owned by a bankrupt northern Ohio utility.
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2021, an 85-cent per month fee would appear on Ohioans’ electric bill, raising about $150 million annually with about 90 percent of the revenue earmarked for FirstEnergy Solutions’ Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power stations on the shores of Lake Erie.
The rest of the money, about $20 million a year, would support solar projects being developed in the state, such as the Willowbrook and Hecate solar panel farms that are awaiting construction in southern Highland County.
According to Wilkin’s office in Columbus, he and fellow representative Jamie Callender (R-Concord Township) introduced House Bill 6 back on April 12 to create the Ohio Clean Air Program (OCAP), with the intention of offering an alternative way to encourage cleaner energy production in Ohio.
“If you, in general, are opposed to government mandates, this bill will reduce one that is currently on and puts a sunset date on it,” Wilkin said. “A lot of the money that had been collected was soaked up by out-of-state companies after they did their ‘energy efficiency projects’ and then left.”
Wilkin admitted that “it isn’t a perfect bill, but it is a step in the right direction,” and said any money collected now stays in-state, and because of it 4,700 jobs will be saved in addition to lowering the average electric bill.
The drama of the legislation continued to build when OACB submitted a pair of summary petitions in mid-Aug. to the Ohio Attorney General and Secretary of State in their effort to have the issue placed before voters on the November 2020 ballot.
Both state offices gave their approval on Aug. 30 for the group to start gathering the nearly 266,000 signatures necessary for ballot placement.
Less than a week later on Sept. 4, the measure’s main beneficiary, FirstEnergy Solutions, filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court claiming that House Bill 6’s rate increases were, in fact, taxes and therefore not subject to referendum, the group said.
Despite the ongoing litigation, Pierce said his organization is still pressing on in its efforts at signature gathering before the Oct. 21 deadline.
“We have to gather about 266,000 signatures, with 3 percent of them coming from people in at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties,” he said. “At the moment, we’re in the smaller counties like Highland and you’ll find our folks in some of the festivals and fairs that are going on now.”
He said that figure represents 6 percent of the population from Ohio’s most recent gubernatorial election, and is designed to insure geographic diversity and be representative of everyone’s point of view.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.