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Nuclear Plants' Owner Seems Flexible On Bailout Deadline

Jul 1, 2019

Inside FirstEnergy's Perry Nuclear Power Plant.
Credit Ohio Public Radio

The owner of Ohio’s two nuclear power plants says it still plans to deactivate and decommission them since lawmakers were not able to pass a bail out measure before the June 30 deadline.

However, some are questioning the firmness of that deadline. The energy company says there’s still time to reverse course. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

FirstEnergy Solutions told Ohio lawmakers that it needed a decision on its nuclear subsidy proposal by the end of June to order new fuel for the next refueling cycle at the Davis-Besse plant in Oak Harbor.  Ads on television and online drove home the same message, that a deal needed to be reached by June 30.  But the comprehensive energy bill is still sitting in a Senate committee, which means the legislature missed the company’s set deadline.

While FirstEnergy Solutions says it will continue the process of shutting down the plants, as promised in its bankruptcy plan, Republican Senate President Larry Obhof believes there’s some wiggle room.

“No I don’t think that the timing is going to be an issue. I’ve had a number of conversations with them going back several months about what the timeline was and there’s always been a little bit of flexibility.”

The House-approved legislation, HB6, would’ve charged residential ratepayers $1 on their monthly electric bills, generating $150 million for nuclear plant subsidies.  In conversation with reporters, Republican House Speaker Larry Householder wasn’t as confident about what happens now that lawmakers have missed the deadline.

“Do you have any reason to believe that because HB6 didn’t pass by the June 30 deadline that FirstEnergy Solutions might move forward with their proposal to shut down?”

“I have no idea, I know that we did what we had to do in the House and I have no idea what their situation is. I would just encourage us to do the right thing and try to help out the situation for the people of Ohio. That’s all I would do.”

“You have not heard from them lately?”

“No.”

In a written statement, FirstEnergy Solutions said it’s still optimistic about the nuclear subsidies bill passing, and if it does tit will reevaluate their options. The statement goes on to say that the company remains committed to the process, which means what they say is an “increased financial burden associated with missing the June 30 fuel purchasing deadline.”

Tracy Sabetta a consultant for the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance, has her own take on this statement.

“So the deadline was important but they will still happily take the money from consumers as long as the Legislature passes something soon.”

Sabetta’s group is against the bill and says it’s important for the Senate to take more time to look over the possible changes, given there are 50 proposed amendments.

“So I applaud the Senate for taking that step back and looking for ways to make this bill better rather than just catering to the deadline set by the corporation that stands to benefit the most from the legislation.”

The House and Senate held sessions over the weekend, a rare move in the Legislature, to try to hash out a budget compromise. At the same time, the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee was holding hearings on the energy bill.  There was talk that the energy bill might’ve been part of the budget negotiations, but Householder said it never came up in their discussions.

“I certainly heard rumors that the Senate was going to dump [HB] 6 into a continuing bill, send it over here, and sort of force us to take it but at the end of the day that didn’t happen.”

Obhof wouldn’t say if the energy bill was tied at all to the budget negotiations in the Senate.

Under the Senate’s working version of the bill, residential ratepayers would see a monthly charge of 80 cents on their electric bills. But the plan would still allot $150 million for nuclear power.  The House’s version of the bill also repealed the renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. The Senate’s plan would bring those standards back with lower benchmarks and efficiency policies that have led to questions about ratepayer and utility costs.

Householder has said the bill needs to get rid of the alternative energy mandates to get support in his chamber since that would offset ratepayer charges for the nuclear subsidies.

No word yet on the when the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee will hold another hearing on the bill.