COLUMBUS — The Akron-based owner of the state's two nuclear plants still would get the subsidies it says it needs to stay in business under revised legislation introduced Wednesday in the Ohio Senate.

The same goes for two old coal-fired power plants, one in Ohio and the other in Indiana.

However, in a key difference from the House version of the bill to overhaul the state's energy laws, the legislation introduced in the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee would maintain energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs, but they would be weaker than they are now.

The House voted last month to eliminate those programs. The Senate version of House Bill 6 calls for a further look at them in 2021.

"What we are rolling out today I am convinced addresses a comprehensive energy approach for the state of Ohio," said Sen. Steve Wilson, R-Maineville, the committee's chairman.

It also would lower electricity rates for consumers while saving jobs, he said.

"This is a jobs bill because we're saving those jobs for today of the people related to the two nuclear plants, not only those employed at the plants but all the employees at the companies that support those plants," Wilson said, along with workers employed in energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs.

FirstEnergy Solutions, owner of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, has said that without financial help it will shut down the plants. The company has set a deadline of this week for legislators to act.

The plants employ a combined 1,400 workers and support about 4,000 jobs overall, the company has said.

Under the Senate version, all Ohio electricity consumers would pay 80 cents a month initially for the nuclear plants and up to $1 a month for the coal plants, which already are allowed to charge consumers if they operate at a loss. Both fees are lower than the House version.

But Wilson's bill would subject the fees for the nuclear and coal plants to an annual audit from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to ensure that they were still needed or whether they could be reduced in the years to come, he said.

In the first year, FirstEnergy Solutions, the former power generation arm of FirstEnergy that is working to come out of bankruptcy protection, likely would collect about $150 million in the first year, with about $60 million of that for the two coal plants. About $10 million a year already being collected for renewable-energy programs would continue for now.

"It's worth subsidizing those nuclear assets with the proper audits and guardrails," Wilson said, and to determine whether the nuclear plants can survive.

"We are in the process of evaluating the proposed amendments," FirstEnergy Solutions said in a statement. "FES remains committed to engaging with elected representatives on legislation that maximizes the economic and environmental benefits for the citizens of Ohio and enables the nuclear plants to continue operating for years to come, providing much-needed energy diversity to the region."

Wilson said the legislation would reduce bills going forward by capping the amounts that would go to FirstEnergy and the consortium that owns the coal plants while eliminating some of the benefits utilities are getting for energy-efficiency programs.

The overall goal of the bill is for the state to get 8.5% of its generation from renewable energy by 2026, according to the Senate. Current law requires 12.5% by 2025.

The committee scheduled another hearing for Thursday with a possible vote Friday.

Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said senators continue to plug away at the bill, but their hand won't be forced by the Sunday deadline that FirstEnergy Solutions has set.

"I have said all along we will pass a bill when we feel comfortable that we have one that is the right public policy for the state of Ohio, and I'm not going to set deadlines or arbitrary dates on when we are going to do things," he said.

House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said he would like to pass the bill before Sunday, but said he has no assurances the Senate will join the House in doing so.

"We're going to try to have it done. I don't know [about] 'have to,'" he said of the June 30 deadline.

 

Dispatch Reporter Randy Ludlow contributed to this report.