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Ohio Utilities Contemplate Next Steps After Trump Regulators Reject Coal-Nuclear Plant Subsidies

photo of smokestacks

Ohio utilities are considering their next steps after federal regulators knocked down a measure that would have allowed subsidies for struggling power plants. But, there are still options from state lawmakers.

The proposal would have allowed utilities to charge their customers an extra fee to help prop up power plants that struggle to compete in the market. But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied the measure.

Utilities are reviewing FERC’s decision. The outspoken head of the nation's largest private coal-mining company, Robert Murray of Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., called the action by FERC "a bureaucratic cop-out" that will raise the cost of electricity and jeopardize jobs and the reliability and security of the nation's electric grid.

But opponents who call these subsidies bailouts say this is a major victory and should send a clear message that these proposals are not needed. Sierra Club’s Neil Waggoner points out that four of the five members of FERC were appointed by President Donald Trump.

“This isn’t just some sort of partisan issue. This is very much experts in the field saying these bailouts do not make any sense,” Waggoner said.

More pressure on Ohio lawmakers?
If the plan sounds familiar, it’s because Ohio policymakers have been trying to get similar measures on the books for years now.

There are bills currently in the Ohio House and Senate that would allow utilities to charge subsidies to help the state’s coal and nuclear plants.

FirstEnergy, which supports those state proposals, says their plants play "an invaluable role in a well-functioning electric grid, yet the markets do not adequately compensate these assets.”

Before Ohio lawmakers got involved, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved a plan that allowed the power companies to add extra fees to electric bills to help these plants. However, FERC denied that rule as well.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.