Ohioans have good reason to feel outraged.
On Tuesday, federal officials revealed a mammoth pay-to-play scheme at the Statehouse, with Larry Householder, the House speaker, allegedly accepting $60 million from FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Solutions, now Energy Harbor, in exchange for engineering passage of House Bill 6 a year ago.
The centerpiece of the legislation was the controversial $1 billion bailout of two nuclear power plants, Perry and Davis-Besse, both along Lake Erie.
What the U.S. attorney described is a searing betrayal of the public trust. No surprise, then, that a bipartisan contingent of state lawmakers, joined by longtime critics of the legislation, has called for repealing the bill.
State Rep. Mike Skindell, a Lakewood Democrat, argued: “When corruption is revealed, it is important that we act quickly to fix what has been broken.”
It is worth focusing on the word “fix,” as Gov. Mike DeWine did on Thursday in calling for lawmakers to act “very quickly” to repeal and replace House Bill 6. The legislation can be repaired without overturning the benefit to Ohio and the planet by preserving two nuclear power plants that account for 90% of the state’s clean energy.
Perry and Davis-Besse are not outliers. The nuclear power industry has suffered as a whole in its struggle to compete with cheap, carbon-emitting natural gas. Several nuclear plants have shut down. This isn’t a moment to permit prices and markets to dictate entirely. Nuclear power carries much social value as the pace and disruption of climate change mount.
Consider Joe Biden recently altering his timetable for reaching all carbon-free power generation. The Democratic presidential candidate moved the date from 2050 to 2035. The shift reflects good science. It also highlights the need for nuclear power. Lose Perry and Davis-Besse, and projections show clean alternatives would not make up the difference until the middle of the next decade.
Nuclear power is an insurance policy, a proven and substantial generator to complement solar, wind and other clean renewable sources. The Perry and Davis-Besse plants also bolster the local economy, linked to 1,400 jobs and revenue streams for schools and others.
How, then, to fix House Bill 6?
Perhaps there is a way to apply a financial cost, along the lines of subtracting $60 million from the scheduled subsidy to account for the “dark money” routed to the Householder operation. Whatever the outline of a penalty, the new legislation must not put in jeopardy the nuclear power plants going forward.
It would be better for lawmakers to examine the most conspicuous shortcomings in the bill.
The legislation all but gutted the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards. Restoring the standards in some way may strike the Republican majorities as a non-starter, although the bill included support for solar projects.
Such resistance makes it more difficult for Ohio to capitalize in the expanding clean economy, inviting the state to fall further behind its peers. In the era of COVID-19, this thinking also neglects public health. A study last year forecast a net state benefit from the stronger renewable standards of $170 million in 2030.
House Bill 6 also included a fee paid by electricity customers to subsidize two coal-fired power plants. The fee, nearly twice the 85 cents per month ratepayers will provide the nuclear power plants, lacks merit — with coal being both uncompetitive and a leading carbon emitter.
The governor has set forth no small task. Repeal may be easy. Sound repair? That seems trickier. The expectation is the governor will lead the way. Ohio has an opportunity to get right its energy future.
Whatever the stench brought by Larry Householder and others, House Bill 6 preserves a key source of clean power.
— Akron Beacon Journal; Online: https://bit.ly/2X6cASL