State Sen. Steve Wilson said he wanted to maintain the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, and he did — barely. On Wednesday, the Maineville Republican and chairman of the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee unveiled yet another version of legislation designed to route financial assistance to the state’s two nuclear power plants. At the same time, House Bill 6 has become something of a vehicle for a state energy strategy. On that front, the effort remains way short, largely due to a hurried approach ill-suited to the many layers and moving parts.
Better for lawmakers to keep things simple, focusing on the fate of the nuclear power plants. Davis-Besse, near Toledo, and Perry, east of Cleveland, account for 90 percent of the state’s clean energy. Lose that supply, and Ohio will be hard pressed to make up the difference in the carbon-free sources needed to combat climate change.
Natural gas would likely fill much of the gap. While cleaner burning than coal, gas is a fossil fuel. It emits carbon, plus methane if not captured.
FirstEnergy Solutions owns the two nuclear power plants. It needs to make a decision this summer about going forward. The company is seeking to emerge from bankruptcy, a path that testifies to its financial challenges. Abundant and cheap natural gas has eroded the competitive position of nuclear power in the marketplace. What the market fails to value adequately is the carbon-free quality. That is why other states have intervened to protect these clean energy assets, assigning through subsidies the appropriate value.
No doubt, ratepayers would pick up the cost, roughly 80 cents per month for residential customers under this latest version of the bill. This would be done as part of seeking to avoid the greater expense of climate change, say, in the heavier rains testing stormwater systems in this area. Then, there are the jobs saved, and retaining the economic activity driven by the plants.
The bill presented by Chairman Wilson adds a helpful component in a process for auditing the FirstEnergy Solutions books to ensure the subsidy, around $150 million a year, is warranted. This is something FES should embrace, even show a willingness for greater transparency. The version of the bill approved earlier by the House calls for auditing merely the credit program providing the subsidy.
Ideally, lawmakers, and Gov. Mike DeWine, would combine the bolstering of the nuclear power plants with stronger support for the renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, or develop an alternative to reach the same end. Critics argue the energy landscape has changed since launching the standards a decade ago. True. That hasn’t made any less imperative the need to expand clean energy and aggressively pursue a clean economy.
As it is, Ohio hardly rates among the states with ambitious standards, the renewable objective at 12.5 percent of electricity by 2026. The House version would erase the standards. The Senate plan reduces the share to 8.5 percent, the requirement vanishing beyond 2026. The energy efficiency standard now appears crafted to fade away around the same time. Meanwhile, both chambers appear determined to rescue two coal plants, owned jointly by utilities, at $2.50 per month for residential customers.
All of this indicates that lawmakers are far removed from having a strategy to seize energy opportunities or act as sound stewards in an era of climate change. The best they could do at his point is secure the future of the state’s nuclear power plants. That means the current renewable and efficiency standards would remain in place. Yet if lawmakers want to remove or diminish them, they have an obligation to deliver an effective replacement.