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Environment & Energy

Ohio Lawmaker Floats the Idea of a Customer Opt-Out of FirstEnergy's Proposed Nuclear Subsidies

Bill Seitz

Ohio lawmakers have tabled a plan to add a fee to the electric bills of FirstEnergy customers to help pay for the utility’s unprofitable nuclear plants.

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair reports that a key legislator is floating an alternative solution.

FirstEnergy says it needs the $300 million per year generated by a customer fee it's proposing to keep its two Ohio nuclear plants operating, Davis-Besse near Toledo and Perry east of Cleveland. 

The proposed fee will raise electric bills by 5 percent. The utility has repeatedly said it may sell the plants or close them, even with the subsidy.

Cincinnati Republican Bill Seitz, chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee, halted hearings on the plan earlier this month and says he won’t schedule a vote "until I have such clear indication that there is sufficient support both on the committee and within the House.”  

Seitz says he thinks it's important to have nuclear power among the mix of Ohio's generating capacity, but he’s not seeing a lot of enthusiasm for the fee.

“I really think it would be tragic to lose nuclear power in Ohio.  I really do.  But I’m just telling you it’s going to be a heavy lift, and I’ve told FirstEnergy it’s going to be a heavy lift.”

Seitz is floating a change to the proposal that he says has support from some committee members. “We would give all FirstEnergy customers a one-time option to opt out of paying,” says Seitz.  

He says the opt-out idea mirrors a measure the House passed in March that allows utilities to opt out of renewable energy requirements.

FirstEnergy, according to Seitz, does not support the opt-out option for the nuclear subsidy bill and would likely try to kill the measure rather than allow it out of committee in that form.

Like coal, nuclear power in Ohio is seeing stiff competition from cheaper natural gas-fired plants. Seitz says the House will likely take up the proposal again once the Senate has wrapped up its hearings this fall.