An army of utility lobbyists, aided and abetted by sell-outs in the Ohio General Assembly and statewide GOP leadership, are playing us for fools. The outrageous legislative stunt being pulled in Columbus should have every Ohioan hopping mad and screaming, “We’re not going to take it anymore!”

In case you missed it — and state lawmakers hope like crazy you have — legislation laughably referred to as a “clean energy” bill, is well on its way to becoming law at a high cost to you and me. We will pay for Ohio to take a giant step backward in environmental policy even as other states celebrate progressive clean energy milestones with cost-saving energy efficiency initiatives and job-creating renewable energy research and development.

But Ohio Republicans, who control every aspect of state government, prefer to march lockstep behind their stalwart climate change denier in the White House and let somebody else worry about the future. They offer legislative favors, over dynamic energy policy, to reward special interests that write sizable campaign checks.

Big bucks buy political influence. Consider what it bought with Ohio House Bill 6 — a state bailout of two aging, uneconomical nuclear power plants on the backs of homeowners and businesses. H.B. 6, passed by the House and expected to be approved by the Senate, has major utilities in the state salivating like pigs at a public trough.

House Republicans rolled out the measure on the pretense of promoting renewable energy as an integral part of an overall strategy supporting the generation of carbon-free electricity in Ohio. It was a ruse to rescue one bankrupt business that called in a chit for years of reliable campaign contributions.

Reigning Ohio Republicans owe plenty to FirstEnergy Solutions, a former subsidiary of Akron-based FirstEnergy, and boy, did they reciprocate. H.B. 6 is corporate welfare disguised as a forward-thinking clean energy overhaul. But there is nothing enlightened about charging everyone more on their monthly electric bills to prop up a failing company that can’t otherwise compete in the marketplace.

Yet FirstEnergy Solutions, owner of the state’s two inefficient and financially struggling nuke plants, stuck out its hand for money, and Republican House Speaker Larry Householder obliged with a gift that keeps on giving. H.B. 6 tacks a surcharge onto utility bills to ostensibly fund a “clean air program” that credits energy producers who don’t discharge carbon dioxide into the air when they generate power.

The added fee would cost ratepayers about $200 million annually. FirstEnergy Solutions would grab the lion share of the money raised ($150 million every year) to keep Davis-Besse and Perry running. Basically, utility ratepayers would be on the hook to finance decades-old power plants — with troubled histories of grave structural and operational problems, not to mention stockpiles of radioactive waste — so FirstEnergy Solutions and its creditors get paid.

Team Householder included other provisions in H.B. 6 to lock in a separate charge customers are paying to keep two coal-fired plants, circa 1950s, in operation. That move was a favor to another utility giant and Republican campaign benefactor, Columbus-based American Electric Power. It owns 43 percent of the ratepayer-funded fossil fuel plants, one of which Ohio consumers subsidize in Indiana.

Under intense lobbying pressure from special interests, top state Republicans and a GOP operative aligned with the 2020 Trump campaign, the clean energy legislation dropped its façade as a vehicle for cleaner energy innovation. The bill repealed clean energy mandates requiring utilities to meet annual benchmarks for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

It gets worse. In H.B. 6, most renewable energy (wind, solar) projects are ineligible for the same clean air subsidies approved for nuclear and fossil fuel protection. The legislation also further undermined the wind industry in Ohio with new hurdles for establishing wind farms.

Proponents framed their utility bailout as a way to save customers money and keep power plant jobs — as opposed to thousands of manufacturing plant jobs that disappear in the state without similar subsidized intervention.

Left unsaid, of course, are the huge energy bill savings already realized from energy efficient programs implemented by Ohio utilities since 2008. Left unsaid are the 112,486 jobs created by the clean energy and energy efficiency industry in the state as of 2018, according to an analysis by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.

Left unsaid is how blatantly DeWine, Householder and Republican majorities in the Statehouse are working against the public interest by ditching energy efficiency standards and advocating policies that hamstring cost-saving, job-creating and waste-reducing renewable energy. They’re sticking the public with the tab to shore up FirstEnergy Solutions with a faux clean energy bill that does next to nothing to advance clean energy.

Hopping mad yet? Call your state senator. Now. Make some noise. Don’t be played for a fool.

 

Johanek is a veteran print and broadcast journalist.