HB 6 repeal bills before House committee

Larry Limpf

A select committee of the Ohio House of Representatives held its first hearing Thursday on two bills that would repeal House Bill 6, which is at the center of a federal corruption investigation involving the former House speaker.
The Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight heard sponsor testimony on bills 746 and 738 that would repeal HB 6. It was passed last year and established the state’s Clean Energy Program but provided ratepayer funded subsidies for coal and nuclear power plants, drawing criticism from environmentalists as well as business groups.
HB 6 creates a Nuclear Generation Fund that provides $150 million per year to the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants owned now by Energy Harbor, the former FirstEnergy subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions that emerged from bankruptcy as a new independent entity earlier this year. Those funds were to be disbursed from 2021 through January 2028 as payments for each megawatt-hour of generation. The bill also provides similar funding of $20 million per year to six previously permitted utility-scale solar projects.
Under HB 6, the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority has approved the two nuclear plants as eligible for funding along with several solar plants and the approved plants have begun reporting generation figures but no payments are made until April 2021. Also, HB 6 allows the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to approve riders for the collection of funding for OAQDA programs, but the statutory deadline for implementing the riders isn’t until Jan. 1, 2021.
The impact HB 6 has on the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard is especially worrisome to environmental activists because it reduced the RPS, adopted in 2008, requiring clean energy procurement by electricity suppliers. Prior to the enactment of HB 6, the RPS benchmarks for each supplier rose to 12.5 percent by 2026, including a solar energy procurement of 0.5 percent. HB 6 capped the RPS benchmark at 8.5 percent by 2026 with no solar portion requirement after 2019.
The repeal bills could also have an impact on wind farms of at least five megawatts capacity and again subject them to the jurisdiction of the Ohio Power Siting Board.
According to a justice department criminal complaint filed in July, from March 2017 to March 2020, millions of dollars were paid in exchange for the assistance of then Speaker of the House, Larry Householder, and four associates, in passing House Bill 6 and then working to defeat a ballot initiative that, if passed by voters, would have rescinded the legislation.
In all, about $60 million was funneled through Generation Now, an entity formed as a 501(c)(4) organization, from an “energy company and its affiliates during the relevant period,” the complaint says.
First Energy Solutions filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court in 2018, arguing its coal and nuclear power plants could not compete against cheaper energy sources such as natural gas.
Utility executives turned to the legislature for financial assistance and in April 2019 HB 6 was introduced and then passed three months later. Without a ratepayer subsidy, they argued, the power plants, including Davis-Besse and Perry, would be closed.
The select committee was appointed Sept. 2 by House Speaker Robert Cupp and includes nine Republicans and six Democrats.
In the Senate, the Energy and Public Utilities Committee, heard sponsor testimony Sept. 1 on Senate Bill 346, which would also repeal HB 6.
Sen. Sean O’Brien, D – Bazetta, a co-sponsor, said: “Failure to repeal HB 6 would allow it to stand as a monument to the corrupting power of dark money – now and into the future - to bend the legislature to their will as long as they are willing to spend enough cash.”
Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R – Hilliard, also provided sponsor testimony for the bill, saying the public effort to bring HB 6 up for referendum was “sabotaged by those behind the creation of HB 6.”


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