- Ohio lawmakers are expected to resume work on legislation subsidizing two nuclear and two coal-fired power plants next week after a Senate committee this past weekend halted its evaluation of 57 proposed amendments to a bill approved by the Ohio House.
FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) on Monday issued a statement saying that it was "pleased with the consensus forming" to approve HB 6 in the coming weeks but warned that since lawmakers had missed the company's June 30 deadline, it would not be able to order new fuel rod assemblies at a cost of $52 million to refuel its Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo in March.
Senate leaders have questioned the validity of that June 30 deadline, saying a few weeks delay would not matter. The Senate does appear to be committed to approving the bill, but whatever changes it makes to the bill could unravel support in the House.
Wrangling over House Bill 6 (HB 6), which GOP majority House leaders introduced in April as a "clean air" measure, drew hundreds of opponents concerned that it would distort competitive markets and cripple the development of renewable energy as well as new gas generation.
"You are getting right into the middle of competitive markets and subsidizing generation. That is exactly the opposite of what Republicans argue for all the time," said Rep. Ryan Smith, R, former House Speaker.
As passed by the House, HB 6 would cost Ohio electric customers $169 million next year and $198 million annually from 2021 through 2026, according to a fiscal analysis by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.
The Senate committee version, still a work in progress, would raise $161 million in new charges annually and give FES only about $151 million, diverting the other $10 million to assist the development of future renewable energy projects.
The Senate version would also enable state regulators to authorize utility surcharges subsidizing the continued operation of two large 65-year-old coal-fired power plants jointly owned by the state's utilities at a cost to customers of about $50 million annually until 2030.
Smith predicted HB 6 would be approved and signed into law before the end of the month despite its impact on competitive markets that Ohio has worked to develop for two decades.
Akron-based FES and its former parent FirstEnergy Corp. have lobbied relentlessly for the bill that in its current form as amended in a Senate committee would give the company $150 million a year through 2026, funds FES says it must have to avoid shutting down its two Ohio nuclear power plants on the shores of Lake Erie. And, it warns, uncertainty is impacting the next fuel cycle.
"While FES is optimistic about the outcome for HB6, the company remains unable to purchase the fuel required for Davis-Besse's next refueling cycle without the certainty of critical legislative support. We remain on path for a safe deactivation and decommissioning. Should we receive the long-term certainty that comes with an affirmative vote within this timeframe, we will immediately reevaluate our options," the utility's Monday statement said in part.
A year ago, just days before filing for voluntary federal bankruptcy protection FES announced that without a state or federal subsidy it would shut down Davis-Besse by May 31, 2020.
As for the June 30 deadline, previously the chief nuclear officer of FES had said in an interview that the manufacturer building the fuel rod assemblies takes about six months. More recently, though, an FES expert consultant who testified before the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee said the manufacture of the fuel assemblies takes up to 8 months to complete — meaning the fuel might not reach Davis-Besse until February.
The Ohio Consumers' Counsel has been one of the sharpest opponents of the legislation because it would violate the competitive markets that have lowered the price of electricity over the last decade.
"What is happening here is deregulated FirstEnergy Solutions and its future Wall Street owners are being given access to monopoly customers for subsidies akin to treating FES like a monopoly utility (which it is not). The result for customers is asymmetrical and unfair," OCC witness Michael Haugh testified this past weekend.
Haugh also included a copy of the company's latest monthly operating report filed with the federal bankruptcy court on Friday.
That report showed that the company's nuclear subsidiary was operating in the black.
A spokesperson for the company said the report alone is insufficient to analyze the overall fiscal health of FES.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of money that would be provided annually to FES to support its two nuclear plants under the Senate version of HB 6. It's $150 million.