COLUMBUS, Ohio—State lawmakers are looking at whether to keep in place a $1.3 billion public bailout for the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants along Lake Erie, a law that federal authorities say was corruptly enacted.
But throughout the debate, there’s still a glaring problem: the owner of the nuclear plants refuses to disclose whether they are profitable or not. And so far, there’s been no attempt by state lawmakers to compel the company to release its numbers before the bailout takes effect.
During last year’s debate over whether to pass the bailout as part of House Bill 6, Energy Harbor – then known as FirstEnergy Solutions – asserted it needed public subsidies or it would close the plants. But the company wouldn’t open its books to lawmakers or the public to prove that it actually needed the money, leading legislators to rely on estimates, industry averages and company officials’ word.
At the time, FirstEnergy Solutions told cleveland.com the reason it couldn’t open its books was because it was involved in bankruptcy proceedings. Those proceedings have been over for months, yet Energy Harbor still won’t say whether the plants are profitable. And this time, the company is not offering a reason.
“We do not release financial performance figures for the plants,” said Energy Harbor spokesman Jason Copsey in an email, when asked for such information. Copsey didn’t reply to an email asking why the company won’t publicly release the data.
State lawmakers are now considering whether to repeal or revise HB6 since ex-Speaker Larry Householder and four allies were indicted in July on charges that they secured the passage of HB6 through a bribery scheme fueled by $60 million in FirstEnergy Corp./FirstEnergy Solutions money.
When state Rep. Jim Hoops, a Napoleon Republican who chairs the House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight, a special committee studying what to do about HB6, was asked earlier this month whether the committee would ask Energy Harbor to open its books, Hoops replied by saying lawmakers have discussed ensuring there’s an audit to prove whether Energy Harbor needs the money.
“I’m getting the language to show exactly how much do they need, if they need anything,” Hoops said.
But when asked whether lawmakers would seek to obtain such information before the legislature decides whether or not to move on repealing or replacing HB6, Hoops said he didn’t know the timing and needed to talk with House Speaker Bob Cupp about it.
Hoops told Gongwer News Service on Thursday that he’s not sure whether Energy Harbor or FirstEnergy Corp. (Energy Harbor’s former parent company) can or will testify before his committee, given lawsuits filed against the companies by Attorney General Dave Yost, among others.
Cupp spokeswoman Taylor Jach noted that HB6 requires state regulators to audit Energy Harbor every year starting in 2021, after the public starts paying for it.
When asked whether the speaker felt it’s not important for lawmakers to know now whether the nuclear plants are profitable or not, Jach replied in a statement: “The House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight is continuing its work on the details of repealing and replacing House Bill 6. The question of need and its determination will be an important consideration.”
State Rep. David Leland, a Columbus Democrat and the ranking member on the HB6 study committee, said he hasn’t asked Energy Harbor to provide numbers about the nuclear plants’ profitability, and he’s unsure whether any other lawmakers have done so since Householder’s arrest.
But, Leland said, “the general consensus is they (Energy Harbor) don’t need the money.” He noted that after HB6 became law, Energy Harbor sought to buy back hundreds of millions of dollars worth of its own stock – a move that benefits company shareholders.
“That doesn’t sound like that’s a company that needs an infusion of cash to stay viable,” Leland said.
Leland called the study committee “a show hearing” held by Republicans who are trying to both keep their political reputation intact and stall on repealing HB6 until the legislative session ends in December. And even if the committee does decide to obtain Energy Harbor’s financial data, Leland added, it’s unclear whether the panel has the power to subpoena the company for that data.
“Energy Harbor produced less financial information for a billion-dollar bailout than the average homeowner has to present to get a loan on a mortgage for a home,” Leland said. “It was incredible that we were just taking everybody at their word that they needed the money, but there was absolutely no information or data to back it up.”
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