COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio state lawmakers made their case for repealing House Bill 6 on Thursday before a legislative panel, noting the scandal surrounding its passage and questioning whether the owner of two nuclear power plants needs the law’s $1.3 billion public bailout.
Republican state Reps. Laura Lanese and Dave Greenspan, as well as Democratic state Reps. Mike Skindell and Michael O’Brien, testified before the Ohio House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight in favor of their respective bills that would repeal the controversial legislation.
HB6 has come under severe scrutiny since state Rep. Larry Householder (the former House speaker) and four allies were arrested for an alleged $60 million bribery scandal to pass the legislation on behalf of FirstEnergy Corp., whose former subsidiary – now a separate company called Energy Harbor – owns the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants that stand to receive bailout money starting next year.
Lanese, who represents a suburban Columbus district, noted in her testimony that Energy Harbor, previously called FirstEnergy Solutions, moved earlier this year to buy back hundreds of millions worth of its stock, calling into question whether the company actually needs the bailout money in order to keep the plants in operation.
Greenspan, of Westlake, questioned in his testimony whether the word “bailout” should be used to describe House Bill 6, saying the money for the nuclear plants should instead be called a grant with no accountability.
“How many other Ohio businesses would like to qualify for a grant with those criteria?” Greenspan asked. “The answer is simple: All of them.”
Both Republicans also questioned a separate part of HB6 called “decoupling,” which allows FirstEnergy to impose mandatory fees from its customers in order to offset, up to a prearranged point, any loss of money it sees from selling less electricity thanks to its energy-efficiency programs.
In other words, HB6 gives FirstEnergy Corp. permission to charge ratepayers what’s needed to ensure it brings in $978 million per year – the company’s revenue in 2018.
Greenspan said that “simply put,” it ensures that FirstEnergy can charge the public so it “can always break even.”
House Bill 746 would repeal all of HB6. “We must have a clean slate to start from,” Greenspan said.
Skindell, a Lakewood Democrat who is sponsoring an identical repeal bill, House Bill 738, testified that “Legislation adopted by means of corruption, in and of itself, is corrupt.”
He continued: “The confidence and trust of Ohioans cannot be restored until there is a complete and immediate repeal of legislation founded in corruption.”
O’Brien, of Warren, called HB6 “corporate welfare” and “the worst energy legislation” passed by any state in the 21st Century.
One ongoing item of debate is whether HB6 actually saves Ohioans money.
HB6 proponents point to an analysis from the non-partisan Legislative Service Commission concluding that the law lowers Ohioans’ utility bills (by gutting the state’s green-energy mandates).
But Skindell said that argument is incorrect because it doesn’t factor in the savings the public sees from the energy-efficiency mandate. He cited an Ohio Environmental Council analysis showing that each Ohio family will pay an average of $7.01 more per month thanks to HB6.
State Rep. Dick Stein, a Norwalk Republican who voted for HB6, pushed back on the lawmakers’ testimony, saying that it would be wrong to repeal the law without replacing it, as there’s “good policy” within it.
“HB6 was not about saving jobs,” Stein said, saying it was instead about saving nuclear plants that provide the large majority of Ohio’s carbon-free energy. He said some other states’ nuclear subsidies are larger than what HB6 provides for, and that the renewable-energy standards that HB6 killed off sent a lot of money to renewable energy outside of Ohio.
Stein also questioned the attacks on decoupling, noting that other utilities can use it (though FirstEnergy, to date, is the only utility to have a decoupling mechanism approved by state regulators).
Democrats on the select committee unsuccessfully attempted Thursday to report HB 746, the GOP-authored HB6 repeal bill, to the House floor, but majority Republicans on the panel voted to continue hearings in the select committee.
It’s unclear how long hearings will continue, though new House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, said he hopes to address the issue before the current legislative session ends in December.
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