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Wind, solar skeptical of Ohio 'clean energy' bill

By JIM PROVANCE • May 6, 2019 at 12:17 PM

COLUMBUS — Some members of a legislative panel on Tuesday tried to do the math, questioning why wind and solar companies wouldn't jump at the chance for new dollars rewarding them for producing clean power.

House Bill 6 aims to financially reward energy companies that generate electricity in Ohio while emitting little or no carbon pollution. But wind and solar industry representatives told the panel they worry they won't be allowed to fairly compete under legislation that some critics contend amounts to a bailout for the nuclear industry.

While the bill does not specifically mention "nuclear," it would financially reward northern Ohio's two nuclear power plants — Davis-Besse near Oak Harbor and Perry, which is about 40 miles east of Cleveland — for producing electricity that does not emit carbon dioxide into the air.

While solar, wind and other renewable power would presumably be allowed to compete for the zero-emissions credits, Andrew Gohn, eastern region director for the American Wind Energy Association, said those in his industry worry that the deck is stacked against them.

"I would say that I don't think our members, frankly, are highly confident that they will have access to those resources," he said.

The wind and solar industries also point out House Bill 6 would do away with current law that mandates utilities find more of their power from renewable sources.

"It seems like you could get a good chunk of dollars through this clean energy program that you're opposing," said Rep. Jon Cross (R., Kenton), a member of the House Subcommittee on Energy Generation. "I guess I don't understand why you're opposing the bill."

Davis-Besse's 700-employee workforce makes the nuclear power plant Ottawa County's largest employer. The Benton-Carroll-Salem Local School District has relied on property tax revenue generated by the plant since it went online 42 years ago, on April 22, 1977.

The plant's owner, FirstEnergy Solutions, said it plans to close it no later than May 31, 2020, unless a buyer or alternative plan emerges.

Tuesday marked the first time that opponents to House Bill 6 have had a chance to testify.

The Davis-Besse and Perry power plants would receive $9.25 for each megawatt hour produced, qualifying them for more than half of the roughly $300 million the proposed Ohio Clean Energy Program would generate through surcharges on electric bills statewide.

The bill also opens the door for utilities using polluting sources, such as natural gas and coal, to seek credits if they can produce power with fewer carbon emissions.

To raise money to pay for the credits, surcharges would be placed on the electric bills of all utility customers in the state, ranging from $2.50 per month for a residential consumer to $2,500 for major industrial users.

Backers of the bill argue that consumers actually would save money because the mandates on utilities to use more renewable power and reduce consumption overall would end, resulting in a net monthly bill reduction of $1.89 for a residential consumer.

Supporters also argue it would postpone the permanent decommissioning of the nuclear plants that are responsible for 90 percent of Ohio's zero-emissions power. They've been unable to compete economically with cheaper and abundant natural gas, and FirstEnergy Solutions is currently in bankruptcy proceedings.

But to participate in the benefits from House Bill 6, a wind farm would have to produce at least five-megawatt hours of power to compete, leaving a number of smaller operations in the state on the sidelines. Solar fields would have to produce at least 50 megawatts, a standard none currently in operation would meet, although there are some in development that would.

Frank Szollosi, Great Lakes climate policy director for the National Wildlife Federation, argued that the renewable and energy efficiency mandates should be part of any effort to increase energy-related economic opportunity.

"A better bill would not just protect good people who are currently employed but also provide real opportunities for so many of our fellow Ohioans looking for work -- not concentrating the benefits to just two deserving communities but expanding the benefits to all of Ohio's deserving communities," he said.

The Lucas County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution opposing the bill, calling it a "multi-billion-dollar bailout" for FirstEnergy Solutions.

"House Bill 6 is just another reward for the utility's bad corporate decisions subsidized on the backs of customers," the resolution reads.

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