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Akron-Based FirstEnergy Solutions' Bankruptcy Renews Pressure on Ohio Lawmakers

Davis Besse

Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions has filed for bankruptcy, just days after announcing it would close nuclear power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports on legislation that could impact at least the plants in Ohio.

FirstEnrgy has said the three nuclear plants -- all built in the early 1970s -- can’t compete with lower-priced natural gas. State Sen. John Eklund of Chardon introduced legislation last year that would allow the company to charge customers in Ohio more to subsidize the plants. He says the reaction has been mixed, with some of his colleagues dismissing it as a bailout.

“There are those who understand it and support it. And I’ve had legislators say to me, ‘You know, if those resources were in my district, I’d be fighting like crazy to keep them and to support them.’”

Eklund has touted the community benefits of the hundreds of jobs the plants support. But, as a capitalist, he says can understand if they end up simply not being viable in the future.

“No business would continue to operate an asset and lose money indefinitely. That’s just the hard, cruel reality. I won’t like it if that’s what it comes to. And I’m going to fight with every ounce of persuasion and advocacy that I can to prevent it from happening.”

Eklund also touts the nuclear plants as having zero emissions, but State Sen. Kenny Yuko from Richmond Heights says there’s still more interest in natural gas.

FirstEnergy Solutions has about $550 million in cash to continue operating, but it faces more than $4 billion in debt to creditors and to its parent company, FirstEnergy Corp., which is not part of the bankruptcy filing.

Opponents say if the plants can’t compete on the open market, they should close. Eklund says some of his colleagues may also feel there’s no urgency in dealing with the situation as it winds its way through bankruptcy court.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.