Ohio Senate votes to repeal nuclear plant subsidies

After months of unsuccessful efforts by Ohio lawmakers to contend with the fallout from H.B. 6—the now-infamous nuclear subsidies bill signed into law in 2019—the state’s senate on March 3 passed a measure, S.B. 44, to repeal those subsidies. The vote was 32–0.

For those who may need reminding, federal prosecutors on July 21, 2020, arrested Larry Householder, then speaker of the Ohio House, and four lobbyists and political consultants for their involvement in an alleged $61 million corruption and racketeering scheme aimed at guaranteeing passage of H.B. 6, whose subsidies had kept Ohio’s Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants from premature closure.

H.B. 6 established a seven-year program to charge the state’s electricity consumers fees to support payments of about $150 million annually to the plants’ operator, Energy Harbor Corporation, then known as FirstEnergy Solutions (FES). FES had announced in March 2018 that it would be forced to close Davis-Besse and Perry without some form of support from the state. (The payments to Energy Harbor were blocked last December by an Ohio Supreme Court injunction, which complemented an earlier lower court ruling.)

Energy Harbor may decline Ohio plant subsidies

The Associated Press is reporting that Energy Harbor (formerly FirstEnergy Solutions), owner of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, may decline the subsidies provided for those facilities by HB6—the scandal-tainted Ohio bill that was signed into law in 2019. (In late December of last year, the Ohio Supreme Court issued a temporary stay to stop collection of the HB6-mandated fee from Ohio ratepayers that was set to begin January 1.)

The year in review 2020: Power and Operations

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Power and Operations section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Power and Operations section

Judge halts Energy Harbor nuclear subsidies

An Ohio court has granted a preliminary injunction that blocks Energy Harbor from receiving the “nuclear generation fund” payments that were set to begin January 1 as part of H.B. 6—the scandal-tainted legislation at the center of an alleged multi-million dollar racketeering and corruption scheme aimed at guaranteeing its passage.

Signed into law by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in July 2019, H.B. 6 established a seven-year program to charge the state’s electricity consumers fees to support payments of about $150 million annually to Energy Harbor, which had announced in March of the previous year that it would be forced to close the financially strapped Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants without some form of support from the state.

Bill would delay subsidies for Ohio nuclear plants

New legislation to address Ohio’s scandal-ridden nuclear subsidy bill, H.B. 6, was introduced in the state’s House of Representatives on December 1. Unlike the measures introduced earlier this year that sought to either fully or partially repeal the bill, H.B. 798 calls for delaying subsidies for the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants by one year. (Currently, charges on ratepayers’ monthly electric bills are set to begin in January.) Cleveland.com has more on the story.

Fallout from Ohio’s H.B. 6 scandal reaches FirstEnergy C suite

Chuck Jones, former FirstEnergy CEO

Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corporation—former parent of Energy Harbor, the owner of Ohio’s Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants—announced on October 29 that it has fired its chief executive officer, Charles “Chuck” Jones, as well as its senior vice president of product development, marketing, and branding and its senior vice president of external affairs.

The actions, according to FirstEnergy, were prompted by an internal company review undertaken in response to the scandal surrounding H.B. 6—the now infamous legislation signed into law last year by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine that includes subsidies for Davis-Besse and Perry and that is at the heart of an alleged multi-million dollar racketeering and corruption scheme aimed at guaranteeing its passage.

In the announcement, FirstEnergy said only that its review “determined that these executives violated certain FirstEnergy policies and its code of conduct.” Replacing Jones is Steven E. Strah, who had been the firm’s president.

Special committee holds first hearing on H.B. 6

Some two weeks after its creation, the Ohio House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight held its first hearing on September 10 to consider a potential repeal of the Ohio Clean Air Program Act (H.B. 6).

H.B. 6 is the sweeping energy law that includes subsidies for the state’s two nuclear power plants, Davis-Besse and Perry, and that is currently at the center of an alleged $61-million corruption scheme aimed at guaranteeing its passage.

Newly elected Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp (R., Dist. 4)—who replaced Rep. Larry Householder (R., Dist. 72) as speaker following the latter’s July 21 arrest as the scheme’s alleged ringleader—announced the committee’s creation in late August. Cupp stated that its goal is “repealing House Bill 6 and replacing it with thoughtful legislation Ohioans can have confidence in.”

The committee’s initial hearing, however, focused only on efforts to immediately repeal the measure. Proponents of two repeal bills—one backed by Republicans (H.B. 746) and one by Democrats (H.B. 738)—argued their positions, with some displaying greater rhetorical gifts than others.

More voices come to the defense of Ohio’s H.B. 6 policy

Despite high-profile calls to repeal the scandal-tainted Ohio Clean Air Program Act (H.B. 6) and recent legislation crafted toward that end in both the Ohio House and Senate (66 of 99 House members have reportedly co-sponsored Democratic or Republican bills to repeal H.B. 6), the policy behind the measure continues to garner support.

As reported here on August 26, the six commissioners from Ohio’s Lake and Ottawa counties—home to Davis-Besse and Perry, the two nuclear plants saved from early closure by H.B. 6—have made clear their opposition to an immediate repeal of the act.

Ohio counties oppose repealing H.B. 6 without a replacement bill

All six commissioners from Ohio’s Lake and Ottawa counties—home to the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants—joined forces last week to express their opposition to an immediate repeal of the Ohio Clean Air Program Act (H.B. 6), which was tainted by last month’s scandal involving former Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder and four associates.

Signed into law by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in July last year—rescuing Perry and Davis-Besse from premature closure—H.B. 6 has become the subject of multiple calls for repeal since Householder’s July 21 arrest, including one from DeWine himself.

Menezes confirmed as deputy energy secretary

Menezes

In a bipartisan 79–16 vote, the Senate on August 4 confirmed Mark W. Menezes to be the nation’s deputy secretary of energy. Prior to his confirmation, Menezes had served as undersecretary of energy to both Secretary Dan Brouillette and his predecessor, Rick Perry. An official swearing-in ceremony will take place at a later time.

Before joining the Trump administration in 2017, Menezes was an executive with Berkshire Hathaway Energy. He has also worked on Capitol Hill as chief counsel for energy and environment for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where he served as chief negotiator for the House majority in the enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Statement from the CEO

Statement from the American Nuclear Society’s Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy on Ohio bribery scandal

The American nuclear professional community is deeply disturbed by alleged political corruption in Ohio related to the passage of House Bill 6. If the allegations are true, they represent a breach of public trust that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Feds arrest Ohio lawmaker who pushed nuclear subsidy bill

Householder

Federal prosecutors on July 21 arrested the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Larry Householder, and four lobbyists and political consultants for their involvement in an alleged $61-million corruption and racketeering scheme aimed at guaranteeing passage of H.B. 6, the Ohio Clean Air Program Act—the measure that rescued Ohio’s Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants from premature closure. If convicted, Householder et al. face up to 20 years in prison.