Defying all laws of competitive economics, climate change, and technological progress, the state House has voted in a ratepayer-funded bailout for two aging nuclear power plants.
May 30, 2019
If it passes Ohio’s Senate next week, the astonishing multi-billion-dollar public handout will guarantee the Buckeye State a prime spot in the new millennium’s can’t-compete Rust Belt rumble seat for decades to come.
Passing 53 to 43 on May 29, the bitterly contested House Bill 6 forces ratepayers throughout the state to fork over $190 million per year in over-market payments to keep the decaying Perry and Davis-Besse reactors in business. The money is to come from all Buckeye electric consumers, even though many get zero power from the plants being bailed out. Ten Democrats voted yes, guaranteeing the bill’s passage. Seventeen Republicans voted no, mostly on libertarian grounds.
HB6 was originally marketed as a “clean air” initiative. But the bailouts for the coal burners have stripped even that thin veneer from the bill’s real purpose: saving Akron-based FirstEnergy from its ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. The bill strips state funding for renewable and efficiency programs that had saved Ohio millions in utility bills and inched it toward a modern green-based power supply.
The bill also left intact a unique setback clause that prevented big privately funded wind farms from being built in the “North Coast” region along Lake Erie. Many farmers I personally visited in this flat, breezy stretch of agricultural land eagerly support new wind projects, whose lease payments can bring in hefty payments. The potential sites are near urban customers and are criss-crossed with transmission lines.
Despite a huge potential for jobs and profits, the setback clause has left Ohio out of the hunt for big new wind farms. Indiana, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania all have at least more than twice as much installed wind capacity as does Ohio. Buckeye lawmakers fret over the roughly 2,000 jobs at Perry and Davis-Besse, but have killed new turbine projects that could create far more in construction and maintenance, while dropping electricity rates throughout the region.
Ironically, because of its historic industrial base, Ohio is a leading producer of wind turbine components—most of which are shipped out of state because the setback clause has buried the local demand.
Many of the current jobs at the nuclear power sites would be preserved in a decommissioning process. Green activists advocate a “retain and retrain” program that would retain local workers tearing the plants down while training others for jobs in wind, solar, and efficiency.