Speaker Larry Householder wants the Ohio House to move quickly in approving legislation that would bolster the financial position of the state’s two nuclear power plants. He has in mind passage in June. That date corresponds with FirstEnergy Solutions saying it must decide this summer whether to obtain the uranium required to power the Davis-Besse plant beyond 2021. If that timing holds, Householder and colleagues have much work to do.
As it stands, the legislation, House Bill 6, falls far short of the forward-thinking approach to energy the state needs. That is the case even as the legislation recognizes what the marketplace fails to value, the important role of nuclear power, with its carbon-free emissions, in curbing the impact of climate change.
This is the most recent attempt to rescue Davis-Besse, near Toledo, and the Perry nuclear power plant, east of Cleveland. The bill calls for a new Ohio Clean Air Program that would pay $9.25 for every megawatt hour of electricity produced by a zero-carbon source. For residential ratepayers, that would translate to $2.50 per month. Large industrial users would pay $2,500. No surprise the two nuclear plants, which generate 90 percent of the state’s clean energy, are projected to receive roughly $180 million of the $300 million the program would raise.
Critics see a wasteful bailout. As reported in the Columbus Dispatch last week, state Rep. David Leland, a Columbus Democrat, reflected the view: “I don’t know that taxpayers should be paying this nuclear bailout tax to rescue these companies, especially when it doesn’t benefit them in any way.” Yet it doesn’t benefit them. The urgency in addressing climate change, as made plain by the scientific consensus, demands every kilowatt of clean energy on deck.
At this point, it is misguided to think renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, can meet the challenge. At the least, nuclear power amounts to a responsible insurance policy.
If proponents are right about the direction, they must get much better on the details.
When Leland asked how they arrived at the $9.25 figure, they did not have a ready answer. Most troubling is that they appear determined to make the landscape more difficult for renewable energy sources, in part, by setting thresholds that would narrow access to program funding. They would do so while eliminating the energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standards rightly established as incentives for reducing carbon emissions and expanding clean energy.
Proponents contend the standards haven’t worked. Yet the Republican majorities at the Statehouse have behaved for years as if they didn’t want them to succeed. This legislation must fix the setback requirement for wind turbines that has all but halted the development of wind energy here. A bill with the aim of shrinking the state’s carbon footprint also must include a credible commitment to expanded energy efficiency and renewable energy.
The reason to do so isn’t just about reduced carbon emissions. Clean energy creates jobs, 5,000 in Ohio last year, with nearly 200,000 overall in the renewable and efficiency sectors, according to a recent Clean Energy Jobs Midwest report.
Such improvements in the bill are a way to build broad support, getting beyond the baggage of FirstEnergy, and its spinoff, FirstEnergy Solutions, now the owner of the nuclear plants and looking to emerge from bankruptcy. That baggage got heavier last week, with reports about campaign contributions related to the company and the current legislative battle, including $43,100 directed to Speaker Householder. This is a moment for thinking strategically about Ohio and its energy future, moving to secure clean nuclear power and encouraging leaps ahead in energy efficiency and renewable energy.