Gov. Mike DeWine signs repeal of nuclear bailout, other parts of scandal-tainted House Bill 6

Source: By Jeremy Pelzer, Cleveland Plain Dealer • Posted: Sunday, April 4, 2021

Gov. Mike DeWine, wearing a Cleveland Indians tie -- acknowledging what would have been the opening of baseball season -- signs Ohio House Bill 197 on Friday. The sweeping legislation changes government operations in response to COVID-19
Gov. Mike DeWine, seen in this file photo signing Ohio House Bill 197 last year, has signed into law House Bill 128, which repeals a $1 billion-plus ratepayer bailout of two Northern Ohio nuclear power plants, as well as other parts of the scandal-tainted House Bill 6. (Ohio Governor’s Office)

COLUMBUS, Ohio—With little fanfare, Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation Wednesday dismantling two key parts of the corruption-ridden House Bill 6 that give billions in ratepayer dollars to energy companies.

House Bill 128, which takes effect in 90 days, repeals part — though not all — of the law at the center of what authorities say is the largest bribery scheme in Ohio history.

HB128 rescinds a $1 billion-plus financial bailout of the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants along Lake Erie.

It also repeals a “decoupling” provision that allows FirstEnergy Corp. to collect a comparatively high amount of money from customers even in years when demand is down, and orders refunds for money already collected. As a result of HB128, FirstEnergy announced Wednesday it will refund customers $26 million collected under the “decoupling” policy between January 2020 and last month.

The new law also revokes language from a different law making it easier for FirstEnergy to pass a state test meant to prevent utilities from making significantly excessive profits.

The announcement that DeWine, a Greene County Republican, signed HB128 into law came as part of a news release listing several bills the governor signed. The release gave no statement from the governor about HB128.

House Bill 6, which DeWine signed in 2019 after a contentious battle, came under even more scrutiny starting last summer, when then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four allies were charged with using more than $60 million in FirstEnergy bribery money to secure the bill’s passage.

HB128 passed the legislature with little opposition. One reason for that is that after Householder’s arrest, DeWine and a majority of state lawmakers called for the repeal of HB6.

But another reason is that Energy Harbor, the former FirstEnergy subsidiary that now owns the nuclear plants, has lobbied for the option of turning down the bailout money because a federal regulatory ruling might otherwise make the subsidies a liability.

During the debate over HB6, proponents of the legislation asserted that the Perry and Davis-Besse plants would close without a bailout. However, Energy Harbor has repeatedly refused to release any evidence showing that was the case.

Several other parts of HB6 still remain in place, including provisions gutting Ohio’s energy-efficiency programs and renewable-energy mandates, as well as statewide subsidies for two coal plants — one in Indiana, one in Ohio — owned by a consortium of utility companies in the state.

HB128 also provides $20 million in annual solar subsides to six large-scale solar projects around the state.

Besides HB128, the governor’s office also announced Wednesday that DeWine has signed an $8.3 billion, two-year state transportation budget, as well as:

  • Senate Bill 18, which updates Ohio’s tax law to reflect recent changes made by the IRS to federal tax law.
  • Senate Bill 5, which enters Ohio into the Physical Therapy Licensure Compact, making it easier for physical therapists licensed in Ohio to practice in other states and for out-of-state physical therapists to practice in Ohio.
  • Senate Bill 7, which enters Ohio into a similar compact for occupational therapists.