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Whaley calls for overhaul to PUCO and state energy policy as nuclear bailout anniversary approaches

Perry Nuclear Plant in Perry, Ohio.
Andy Chow
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Perry Nuclear Plant in Perry, Ohio. (April 2019)

As the three-year anniversary of the nuclear bailout bill being signed into law approaches, Nan Whaley, Democratic candidate for Ohio governor, is pushing for major changes to the state’s energy policy — which includes firing every member of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and bringing back the renewable energy standards.

“We should be taking advantage of the skills of our workforce to harness the clean energy surge happening across the nation. But to do so, we need a governor who is focused on making that happen, not enriching their big utility campaign donors,” Whaley said.

Whaley criticized Gov. Mike DeWine — her Republican opponent — for signing the sweeping energy bill, HB6, that is now connected to what’s been described as the largest corruption case in Ohio history.

The bill created a $1 billion bailout for nuclear plants, guaranteed subsidies for struggling coal plans (including one in Indiana), rolled back renewable energy standards, and eliminated energy efficiency standards.

In July 2020, federal agents arrested then-House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, and four others for an alleged bribery scheme. FirstEnergy later signed a corporate plea deal that admitted to the charges. Householder and another defendant have pleaded not guilty.

As Whaley noted, the FirstEnergy plea deal said the utility paid a bribe to former PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo for preferential treatment. Randazzo — who resigned after the FBI raided his home in November 2020 — has said he did nothing wrong and has not been charged with a crime.

Whaley said her energy plan would include firing every member of the PUCO and ordering for more accountability measures in the commission’s decision-making process.

The nuclear bailout was repealed, but other elements of HB6 remain in place; such as the coal subsidies and alternative energy rollbacks.

Whaley said she would push to bring back standards that require an increased use of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency programs.

“Ohio needs policies that will stabilize and reduce costs to families and businesses. Ohio has what it takes to drive our community and our state with new and renewable fuels,” said Whaley.

But DeWine’s campaign pushed back against Whaley’s assertion that renewable energy mandates would help Ohio.

In a statement, campaign spokesperson Tricia McLaughlin, said the country’s current economic issues and rate of inflation are due to energy initiatives by Democratic politicians.

"Ohioans are paying the high price of President Biden’s energy policies —reducing domestic energy production, surrendering American energy independence, and, in turn, begging despotic regimes to ramp up production,” McLaughlin wrote.

McLaughlin also noted the high price of gas in recent months, which has become a key talking point for Republicans this election season.

“Now, Mayor Whaley says she wants to implement these same irresponsible and costly policies in our state. Ohio voters are fed up with the Biden-Whaley policies that are causing pain at the pump," wrote McLaughlin.

Dan Tierney, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, has fended off accusations that the DeWine administration was involved in the HB6 scandal. Tierney has said the office has never been the focus of the federal investigation.

A trial for Householder and Matt Borges, a former FirstEnergy lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party chair, is set for January 2023.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

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.