A coalition of independent energy companies and environmental groups is working to mount a referendum petition to put the question of customer-paid subsides for coal and nuclear plants before the voters.
A referendum campaign mounted within the next 90 days would prevent Ohio HB 6 from becoming law until the vote on a ballot initiative in November 2020. The groups remain undisclosed while organizing campaign participants. It's expected to include renewable energy groups, developers of gas turbine plants and owners of merchant or unregulated coal plants.
A referendum petition would require at least 1000 signatures of Ohio voters to be certified by the Ohio Secretary of State and roughly 265,000 signatures to become a ballot issue.
If opponents successfully place the issue on the November 2020 ballot, political consultants are expecting an expensive advertising campaign that could dwarf the approximately $15 million total spent by campaigns on both sides of the issue aimed at voter awareness of the position of their representatives and senators.
The long-rumored referendum petition appears to have been anticipated by the GOP majority, which pushed for passage of HB 6.
Approved Tuesday in the GOP dominated Ohio House by a 51 to 38 vote, mostly along partisan lines, the measure would provide FirstEnergy Solutions, owner of two Ohio nuclear plants, with about $1.1 billion through 2027, rather than through 2026 as originally planned.
The extra year means the company would not lose a year of payments if the law does not go into effect until November 2020, provided that voters reject the potential ballot initiative.
HB 6 would also create a customer-paid fund to provide six large solar farms previously approved by regulators with up to $20 million a year in subsidies.
And the bill would set aside about $50 million a year through 2030 to subsidize two large coal units built by the Ohio Valley Electric Corp in 1955. The plants are no longer competitive in the PJM Interconnection wholesale markets.
The cost to individual customers of the nuclear and solar subsidies would be 85 cents a month for consumers and no more than $2,500 a month for commercial and industrial customers, as determined by state regulators.
The legislation caps the cost to customers for the coal subsidies at $1.50 a month for residential customers and $1,500 a month for commercial and industrial customers, determined by state regulators.