Ohio nuclear bailout bill comes with heavy price

Ohio lawmakers should say no to legislation that will give huge tax credits to FirstEnergy so the company can profitably operate its two nuclear power plants, but would interfere with electricity markets.

Subsidies to FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants allowed by the bill would come at the expense of Ohio consumers who will pay an unspecified increase in monthly electric bills if they have a nuclear plant in their service territory — i.e., northern Ohio. And it will put companies like Clean Energy Future, which is building the natural gas-fired plants in Lordstown, at a disadvantage because they will be operating without government subsidy.

Ohio Senate Bill 128 was introduced Thursday by state Sen. John Eklund, R-Chardon. A companion bill is expected to be introduced soon in the statehouse.

A natural gas power plant like the ones being built in Lordstown will produce electricity at half the cost of a nuclear plant. The Zero Emissions Nuclear credit plan, or ZEN, proposed in Senate Bill 128 would guarantee FirstEnergy or the plant’s buyer a profit, in spite of the fact it costs double to operate.

The American Petroleum Institute’s Ohio chapter has voiced objections to the bill, saying the legislation would save the plants “at the expense of Ohioans.”

“When the government picks winners and losers in the energy markets, Ohio consumers pay the price,” Chris Zeigler, API Ohio executive director, said.

Chuck Jones, FirstEnergy president and chief executive, counters that the legislation “recognizes the significant benefits Ohio’s nuclear power plants bring to customers, communities and the state.”

But what about the benefits construction of the planned two local plants will bring to the Mahoning Valley and beyond?

We could expound about how it would devastate the building trades toiling away in Lordstown, the financial hit it would have to the Warren Water Department budget or the Lordstown schools, all hoping to benefit from the plants’ construction. We could further point out the problems it would cause for local companies from Warren Fabrication who make the gas turbine parts to the restaurants feeding those workers.

SB 128 is the worst kind of legislation because it uses government to choose winners and losers by subsidizing inefficiency. It will raise the cost of electricity across Ohio and burden homeowners and businesses with higher electrical costs. And it will seriously harm Ohio’s (and Trumbull County’s) chance to attract new businesses that are heavy users of electricity.