Chamber opposes aid to FirstEnergy

WARREN — The Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber’s Board of Directors said it opposes a proposal to create a program that would help keep FirstEnergy nuclear power plants operating while increasing customers’ electric rates.

The Zero Emissions Nuclear Resource program, commonly referred to as a ZEN, is included in Ohio House Bill 178 and Ohio Senate Bill 128.

The Ohio Senate is set to hear testimony today from proponents and opponents of the plan. The Ohio House of Representatives suspended further proceedings on the proposed legislation.

The chamber, in a news release Wednesday, said it stands among many business and environmental groups across the state — including Clean Energy Future, which is building a $1 billion power plant in Lordstown and has a second $1 billion plant potentially on the way in the village — that also have said they are against the proposal.

“We are in favor of a free market, competitive system in all industries,” said Tom Humphries, the chamber’s president / CEO. “Natural gas fired power plants being built across Ohio, including in Lordstown, are thriving because of a competitive marketplace.”

The ZEN program would require FirstEnergy Solutions’ Davis-Besse plant east of Toledo and Perry plant near Cleveland, both nuclear power facilities, to purchase zero-emissions nuclear credits and recover costs by increasing electric rates in FirstEnergy’s territory, which includes the Mahoning Valley. The rate increase is projected to be 5 percent.

Earlier this year, Chuck Jones, FirstEnergy’s president / CEO, told investors the need for the action “is demonstrated by the fact that nuclear facilities across the nation are closing prematurely.”

Critics have called the proposal a bailout for Akron-based FirstEnergy, but the utility has disputed that description.

The regional chamber said higher electric rates would increase the cost of doing business for its members.

Bill Siderewicz, president of Boston-based Clean Energy Future, said a ZEN would be “grossly unfair” to consumers and would effectively kill his company’s proposal to build a second plant in Lordstown.

In January, Siderewicz announced plans to build the Trumbull Energy Center next to the Lordstown Energy Center under construction along Henn Parkway in the Lordstown Industrial Park. The Ohio Siting Board is reviewing plans for the second facility.

“Zen is a self-serving law that is offensive on many levels and should be rejected by both the Senate and House,” Siderewicz said.

FirstEnergy leaders said nuclear energy is an integral component of Ohio’s electric generation portfolio that provides critical economic, environmental, grid resiliency and fuel diversity, among other benefits to the state.

“Establishing a mechanism that reflects and preserves their value, similar to what other states have already done, is in the best interest of Ohio consumers and communities,” the company stated.

Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy spokesperson, said that “Ensuring nuclear plants remain part of the state’s electricity generation portfolio is the right thing to do for Ohio’s energy future.”

She said the company has seen a “broad base of support” for the ZEN that includes elected officials, school leaders, clergy groups, labor organizations, suppliers, vendors and business leaders.