Updated: Ohio House suspends hearings on FirstEnergy nuclear subsidy bill

Dive Brief:

  • The Public Utilities Committee in the Ohio House of Representatives has suspended hearings and a vote on a bill to lend financial support to nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy, The Plain Dealer reports. 
  • The move comes a day after FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones told paper that the subsidies under consideration for carbon-free nuclear generation may not arrive soon enough to save the company's plants from early retirement.
  • One group of activists say they have another answer, however: Encourage large corporate buyers like Amazon to broaden their green-energy purchase goals to include nuclear energy.

Dive Insight:

SB 128 would create a Zero Emission Nuclear Resource (ZEN) program to keep two FirstEnergy nuclear plants running.

On Tuesday, the chair of the House utilities committee said that after ten hours of hearings he was not "sensing a keen desire" from lawmakers to vote on the bill. 

Rep. William Seitz (R) told reporters he doubts the House will take up the bill again "unless something cataclysmic should happen."

One of those events could be a decision from FirstEnergy to immediately close the plants, The Plain Dealer reports. On Tuesday, the company's CEO said that the odds for a bill looked better later this year, but that it may not be soon enough to save the Davis-Besse and Perry plants. 

"Is the fall soon enough? I don't know," he told the newspaper. "We are working through a lot of issues right now that are going to determine the future of our company and the future of our ownership of competitive generation."

Inexpensive natural gas has been pressuring nuclear plants, and Ohio is not the first state where policymakers have tackled the problem. Both New York and Illinois have zero energy credit programs in place to keep nuclear plants running — though both efforts are being contested — and similar programs are under consideration in Pennsylania, Connecticut and New Jersey. 

While critics say the nuclear credits intrude into federal wholesale markets, an issue the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently addressed at a technical conference, a group of activists and scientists has another proposal.

In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, a group of researchers, environmental advocates and Ohio business leaders and politicians urged a second look at nuclear power. "We are writing to urge you to expand Amazon’s commitment to clean energy and job creation by including nuclear energy in Amazon’s definition of renewables," the coalition wrote.

Amazon, like many big corporations, has renewable energy goals but they do not include nuclear's carbon-free generation. Convincing Amazon to purchase Ohio nuclear generation could save the Davis-Besse and Perry plants, which supply about 90% of the state's carbon-free generation and maintain 1,400 high jobs, the group said.

The letters' authors include researchers from Ohio State University,  Columbia University, University of California, Stanford, Harvard Business School and others.

This post has been updated to reflect the suspension of hearings on SB 128.

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