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Government & Politics

Ads Flood Airwaves As Debate Continues Over Nuclear Bailout Bill

Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant in Ottawa, Co., OH
The Davis-Besse plant near Toledo is one of two that would close unless the state agrees to help FirstEnergy Solutions keep them open.

Ohioans are being bombarded with an ad campaign focused on an energy bill—House Bill 6—that’s being debated in the state legislature.

Who's behind the campaign and just what will HB6 do? Learn more in this conversation with Dayton Daily News reporter Laura Bischoff.

Bischoff said House Bill 6 is a controversial energy bill that would cost consumers about $300 million a year in surcharges. "The money would go into a new fund that probably half, or a little more than that, would likely go to save two aging nuclear power plants that are slated to close: Davis Besse and Perry," Bishcoff said. 

Both plants are owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, which used to be part of Akron-based FirstEnergy. FirstEnergy Solutions is in bankruptcy proceedings and has said it will have to shut down the nuclear plants because of its financial situation.  

Nuclear energy does not generate carbon emissions and Bischoff said, "House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford), Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina), and Gov. Mike DeWine have all said they want to take steps to keep those nuclear power plants open. They think it's good in Ohio's energy generation portfolio to have energy that does not emit carbon."

Bischoff has dug into who’s bankrolling the ad campaign to convince the general public that legilsation to help keep the nuclear plants open is a good idea.

"There is this group called Generation Now," Bischoff said. "It is a dark money group. They are bankrolling most of ads, a little over $2 million worth of ads have been placed so far."  Bischoff notes there are groups funding ads against the bill as well. "Americans for Prosperity, Ohioans against nuclear bailouts and some consumer group have spent about $300,000. It’s all over the airwaves. People are hearing it, seeing it, wondering what’s going on with it."

The financial backers have a stake in the legislation. Bischoff noted that Generation Now lists its treasurer as Lexington, Kentucky-based attorney Eric Lycan and its principal address as a property owned by Columbus-based Republican operative Jeff Longstreth. "Lycan is also listed as treasurer for Growth and Opportunity PAC and Fund," Bischoff said. "The PAC supported Larry Householder and his allies in legislative races last year."

Bischoff also tabulated that FirstEnergy and its PAC (political action committee), since 2014, have  contributed $1.35 million to Ohio political candidates and FirstEnergy has donated another $1.5 million to political parties.

Bischoff explained that House Bill 6 would remove renewable energy efficiency standards and programs that have been part of state law for the past 10 years. "We do pay certain surcharges for those," she said. "Those would go away. It depends on which electric company provides your power on whether you’d pay more or less with new surcharges that will be about $2.50 a month for residential customers, $25 a month for commercial customers, and up to $2,500 month for industrial users as this special Clean Energy fund fee and that would generate about $300 million a year."

Bischoff estimated 120 different witnesses have testified about this proposed legislation, including a gentleman from Vermont, whom she later tracked down.

"I wonder why would some guy from Vermont travel all the way to Ohio to give testimony," Bischoff said. The man shared the story of a nuclear plant closing in the small town where he lives and talked about the devastation the closing caused. Bischoff found out it is the second time he has testified for a nuclear bailout bill in Ohio. Pressing the man further, she discovered that his travel expenses were covered by the Nuclear Energy Institute, of which FirstEnergy is a dues-paying member.  

Bischoff said Speaker Householder had hoped to bring House Bill 6 up for a vote the week of May 20th, but at this point he has indicated they are still working on it.