The 53-43 vote on House Bill 6 came after yet another series of last-minute changes to the controversial bill that would allow subsidies to already-approved solar plants, limit property tax devaluation on the nuclear plants, and cap nuclear subsidies if electricity prices increase.
State Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk voted in favor of the bill. Ten Democrats voted for the bill and 17 Republicans voted against it.
The bill, which now heads to the Ohio Senate, would scrap the state’s clean-energy requirements for utilities that legislators passed in 2008. Those requirements mandate that by 2027, utilities must obtain 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources such as wind and solar, as well as reduce demand through energy-efficiency programs. If HB6 passes as written, the $4.39 average monthly surcharge paid by Ohio residential electricity customers for these mandates would be eliminated.
Instead, every residential ratepayer in Ohio would be charged up to $1 per month to create a “clean-air” fund that would raise about $190 million per year, most — if not all — of which would bail out the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants in Northern Ohio. Both are slated to close soon unless owner FirstEnergy Solutions gets outside financial help. Those subsidies would end after 2026, under the bill.
In addition, HB6 would enshrine in state law an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation could charge its customers up to $2.50 per month — pending approval of state regulators — to subsidize two OVEC coal-fired power plants -- one in Ohio, the other in Indiana. House Republicans from southern and southeast Ohio have been pushing for years for the Piketon-based company (which is jointly owned by several electrical utilities) to receive such subsidies.
Another provision would allow residents in unincorporated areas of Ohio townships to call for a referendum on whether to allow or block a state-approved wind-energy project in their area — even when construction has already started.
Earlier on Wednesday, the House Rules Committee — in an unusual move — added a number of amendments designed to make HB6 more appetizing to both Democrats and Republicans.
One of the changes would make six large-scale solar power projects already certified by the Ohio Power Siting Board eligible for subsidies under the proposed “clean-air” fund. Other alternations would limit the amount of subsidies the nuclear plants could collect should electricity prices increase, and cap the amount by which FirstEnergy Solutions could see a property-tax devaluation of its nuclear plants — an attempt to avoid a repeat of when the plants, then owned by FirstEnergy Corp., were devalued in 2017, costing local governments and schools millions in revenue.
HB6 has created some strange bedfellows. Supporters of the measure include FirstEnergy Solutions, Gov. Mike DeWine, labor unions, nuclear power advocates, and local officials from areas near the nuclear plants; critics include environmental groups, the fossil-fuel industry, renewable energy companies, and some conservative organizations.
Even though Republican House Speaker Larry Householder has made passing HB 6 a priority, only 43 of 61 House Republicans voted for the bill — including Diane Grendell of Geauga County, who was hastily sworn in ahead of Wednesday’s vote to finish the term of Republican Sarah LaTourette in House District 76.
But amid a flurry of lobbying by building trades labor unions and others, 10 of 38 House Democrats provided the “yes” votes needed to pass the bill.
One of those Democrats, state Rep. John Rogers of Lake County (where the Perry nuclear plant is located), said in an interview that while HB6 is "not as good of a bill as it could be,” he and other Democrats succeeded in inserting the last-minute amendments, including capping the plants’ property tax devaluation.
In addition, Rogers said, “If that [Perry] plant goes away, Lake County stands to lose a significant amount of revenue. And that’s going to affect people in a bad way, not a good way.”
Republican proponents of the legislation also said HB6 is needed to keep open the nuclear plants, which employ thousands — adding that the bill also would abolish “costly” government mandates.
“It lowers Ohioans’ utility bills. It keeps Ohio jobs. It preserves our [power plants with] zero-carbon emissions that we have here in Ohio,” said state Rep. Shane Wilkin, a Highland County Republican co-sponsoring the bill.
State Rep. Casey Weinstein, a Hudson Democrat, disputed that by eliminating Ohio’s energy-efficiency requirements, HB6 would save ratepayers money.
“The net result for Ohioans will be increased bills,” Weinstein said.
State Rep. Ryan Smith, a Gallia County Republican and a former House speaker, asked why lawmakers are intervening to save nuclear jobs when they didn’t take similar action to help workers laid off when General Motors closed its Lordstown assembly plant in March.
Smith also said that the bill doesn’t include any auditing provisions to ensure that FirstEnergy Solutions needs the money, pointing to a report from an oil and gas group asserting that the company’s two nuclear plants are among the most profitable single reactors in the country.
“This is socializing risk and privatizing profits,” Smith said.
Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, has previously indicated that he supports rescuing FirstEnergy Solutions’ two nuclear plants, though he hasn’t yet said what he thinks of the House-passed version of HB6.
Prior to Wednesday’s House vote, Obhof said that state Sen. Steve Wilson, the Cincinnati-area Republican who chairs the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee, will begin hearings on the legislation next week — “whether we have a bill or not.”
Obhof added that HB6 comes to the Senate “at the midpoint of the legislative process” -- meaning the bill that goes into the Senate could come out looking dramatically different.
“The budget is certainly going to take up a whole lot of our man-hours over the next few weeks,” Obhof said. “But I’m confident that we have the ability to give both pieces of legislation, and many other pieces of legislation that are pending, full and fair consideration.”
In a statement following the vote, DeWine, a Greene County Republican, thanked Householder “for taking on this major, bipartisan legislative effort regarding Ohio’s energy policy.”
The governor continued: "As I have previously stated, Ohio needs to maintain carbon-free nuclear energy generation as part of our energy portfolio. In addition, these energy jobs are vital to Ohio’s economy. I look forward to this legislative discussion continuing in the Ohio Senate.”
Not all are happy the House passed this legislation.
“What an absolute embarrassment for Ohio, and complete disregard for facts and sound public policy,” said Neil Waggoner, campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Ohio. “House Bill 6’s ‘clean air program’ is a farce that will only make the air in Ohio worse and cost Ohioans more.
“There is nothing ‘clean’ about HB6; nothing clean in how Chairman Vitale handled hearings, nothing clean in how dark money groups and FirstEnergy continue to try to swindle the public with misleading ads, nothing clean about the mangling of facts from proponents speaking in favor of the bill on the House floor, and nothing clean in the end result if it becomes law and bails out old dirty plants.
“Ohio needs a real comprehensive energy policy,” Waggoner added. “House Bill 6 is the opposite of that. The Senate needs to stand up for itself and Ohio constituents, not bow to outside pressure like the House.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Cleveland.com reporter Laura Hancock contributed to this story.
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