Editorial: Repeal HB 6 in full to end costly coal subsidies, restore utility energy efficiency programs

A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

In a welcome example of cross-party Statehouse cooperation in an otherwise contentious General Assembly, a prominent Ohio House Democrat and a prominent Ohio House Republican are co-sponsoring a bill to allow, but not require, Ohio’s electric companies to help customers save money on their electric bills.

As introduced, House Bill 389 would make it clear that electric companies may “develop … energy savings portfolios to help (ratepayers) … save energy” – that is, via various techniques and mechanisms, help Ohioans use less electricity. The bill, introduced Aug. 12, has not yet been referred to a House committee for hearings.

HB 389′s sponsors are former Democratic State Chair David Leland, an Ohio House member from a Columbus district, and Republican Rep. Bill Seitz, a major player in the conservative, pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council. Seitz represents a suburban Cincinnati district. As the Ohio House’s majority floor leader, Seitz ranks as the No. 3 Republican in the Ohio House’s GOP majority caucus.

Cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer reports that “environmental groups, most investor-owned utilities, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are backing the bill … in the wake of the House Bill 6 scandal,” a refreshing example of policy consensus.

HB 6, passed in July 2019, and immediately signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, aimed to bail out two money-losing nuclear power plants formerly owned by FirstEnergy Corp. – the Perry plant in Lake County east of Cleveland, and the Davis-Besse plant in Ottawa County near Toledo.

Leland voted “no” on HB 6, Seitz voted “yes” on the measure.

A federal grand jury subsequently indicted five Statehouse figures, including now-former House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican from Perry County’s Glenford, on corruption charges in connection with HB 6′s passage. The grand jury alleged that HB 6 was passed with the help of $60 million-plus in corrupt spending.

Two of Householder’s co-defendants have since admitted to racketeering in a plea bargain and one died an apparent suicide. Charges against Householder and former GOP State Chair Matt Borges are still pending; the two must be considered innocent until, and if, found guilty.

Earlier this year, the legislature repealed the nuclear subsidies in HB 6 and ended its juicy pro-utility decoupling provisions. But many other questionable or downright pernicious provisions rammed into the bill to ensure its passage remain — likely because influential utilities in the state, and legislators friendly to them, want them to stay. And that is costing ratepayers and leading to confusion for utility regulators.

For instance, HB 6 repealed an Ohio law that had required (not just allowed) electric companies to offer energy efficiency plans. That repeal evidently has stoked uncertainty at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio over whether electric companies could voluntarily offer such plans.

The Leland-Seitz bill would, in effect, clarify that voluntary plans are permissible. This is constructive legislation and it deserves to become law.

But it doesn’t absolve the General Assembly for continuing to duck unfinished business – the full repeal of House Bill 6. It’s politically convenient but deceitful for state legislators to pretend HB 6 is history, just because the nuclear subsidies and decoupling provisions are gone.

HB 6 not only isn’t history – it’s still making ratepayers in Ohio fork out lots of cash, needlessly.

If you doubt that, consider how much money HB 6 has already forced Ohio electricity customers to pay to subsidize two coal-burning power plants, including one in Indiana, that are owned by a group of electric companies, including Ohio companies.

Since January 2020, according to the Ohio Office of Consumers’ Counsel, which represents Ohio’s residential utility consumers, HB 6 has forced Ohioans to pay more than $140.4 million in subsidies to bail out the Kyger Creek coal plant in Gallia County, Ohio, and Clifty Creek coal plant in Indiana. Over that same period, the OCC calculates, the two plants have spewed more than 17 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

HB 6 also continues to hobble Ohioans in benefiting from utility-based renewable energy and energy efficiency options.

For all this, Ohioans can thank their General Assembly, which has failed to yank House Bill 6, root and branch, out of the Revised Code. The legislature’s continued failure to do so – given all the surrounding circumstances – is something that should induce voters, maybe even grand jurors, to ask why.

— Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aug. 27