The disheartening news last week that Clean Energy Future has put the kabosh on plans to construct a third $900 million natural-gas power plant in the Mahoning Valley should come as no great surprise to any informed citizen.
If fact, Bill Siderewicz, president of Massachusetts-based CEF, warned as much before last month’s misguided passage of Ohio House Bill 6 in the state’s General Assembly. The hotly controversial bill will now funnel about $1 billion to bail out two aging nuclear power plants at Perry near Cleveland and Davis Besse near Toledo.
Siderewicz, this newspaper and many other consumer and environmental organizations in the state recognized the short-term folly and long-term harm of HB6 and fervently advocated its rejection this spring and summer.
But unfortunately, those pleas fell on deaf ears. Most in the regulation-despising Republican-controlled state Legislature – with a notable exception of state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem – cozied up to financially struggling First Energy Solutions, the power-plant subsidiary of First Energy Corp. of Akron, by voting for the bailout. (In the Mahoning Valley delegation, only state Rep. Don Manning, R-New Middletown, supported it).
That relationship, consummated in final passage of the shortsighted bailout bill on July 23, comes with exorbitant and unwarranted costs to the Mahoning Valley and to the entire Buckeye State.
The most tangible and immediate cost to the Valley, of course, is the loss of the progressive clean-energy plant in Lordstown that had been tentatively named the Meander Energy Center, after the reservoir from which hundreds of thousands here draw their water. Those benefits would have included hundreds of well-paid construction and skilled-trade jobs and millions of long-term tax dollars to schools and local governments.
All tolled, Siderewicz had estimated a $29 billion loss of economic benefits to the Valley over the next five decades.
So what do we and other Ohio residents and communities get in return?
Yes, the new law likely will preserve most of the 1,400 jobs at the two nuclear plants, but added expenses to many large Ohio businesses and industries could easily send significantly more workers to the unemployment lines. That’s because analysts estimate the FE surcharges to those businesses could exceed $2,400 on their electric bills.
The new law also saddles all residential utility consumers with added surcharges on each bill regardless of whether they purchase their electricity from First Energy. And some of the new Ohio funds will prop up a power plant in Indiana.
ENERGY-SAVING MANDATES GUTTED
What’s more, on the environmental front, the legislation in effect guts this state’s clean-energy and renewable energy mandates by drastically reducing or, in some cases, eliminating altogether the monthly surcharges for those initiatives. According to the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, those initiatives have resulted in $5.1 billion in energy savings for Ohioans from 2009 to 2017.
Despite that gloomy scenario, not all is lost. One saving grace of the final version of HB6 is that it delays implementation of the new odious standards until 2021.
That postponement gives opponents more than a full year to reassess HB 6’s negative impact and consider restoraion of some of the state’s long-term energy-efficiency goals. Opponents have wasted no time in seizing that opportunity.
Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, a committee opposed to HB6, last week submitted summary petitions to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to place a statewide referendum on the 2020 general election ballot to repeal HB6 – lock, stock and barrel.
“Ohio voters have a constitutionally guaranteed process to weigh in on this shameful corporate bailout for First Energy Solutions and the dismantling of Ohio’s renewable energy standards,” said OACB spokesman Gene Pierce in a news release.
Once approved, the group will have two months to collect 265,000 signatures of Ohio voters to secure placement on next year’s presidential ballot. We wish the group success in its efforts.
Though the decision to scuttle the third clean-energy plant in the Valley likely won’t be reversed, efforts to prevent longer-term damage from HB6 to our state’s economy and environment deserve support from all civic-conscious Ohioans.