An Ohio House panel on Thursday recommended a slightly slower timeline to end Ohio’s existing green-energy mandates and replace them with new subsidies for “zero-carbon” power plants.
If passed, the changes mean that Ohio electricity users would end up paying both the old and new “green-energy” surcharges for all of next year, though it wasn’t immediately clear how much that would affect ratepayers’ pocketbooks.
Lawmakers made the changes House Bill 6, a controversial bill that would bail out two financially troubled Ohio nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, and assess surcharges for each electric customer in the state to help subsidize “clean energy” generators.
The House committee tried to address the overlap in its proposal by significantly lowering the new surcharge rates for 2020 to 50 cents per month for residential customers and $15 per month for commercial customers.
However, when the full surcharge rates kick in starting in 2021, utilities that still have ongoing contracts for energy-efficiency programs would still be allowed to continue charging customers for them until the contracts expire. The full rates would be $2.50 per month for residential customers, $20 per month for commercial customers, $250 per month for industrial ratepayers and $2,500 per month for very large power users.
Right now, Ohioans pay an average of $4.39 per month to fund energy-efficiency, renewable-energy, and peak demand programs.
Energy-efficiency programs wouldn’t necessarily go away after 2020: utilities would be allowed to set up such programs on their own, if they first get state approval.
The new surcharge would generate an estimated $86 million in 2020, $239 million in 2021, and $306 million annually after that, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Service Commission.
That money would be awarded in the form of “clean-energy credits” to the two Northern Ohio nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, as well as wind, solar, and natural gas plants.
Supporters of HB 6 say it would save Ohioans money on their electric bills. Opponents see it as a bailout for FirstEnergy Solutions, which is planning to close the two nuclear plants soon unless it receives financial help.
State Rep. Dick Stein, a Norwalk Republican, said that lawmakers plan to make additional changes to the bill next week. Specifically, Stein said lawmakers want to make sure their changes don’t dramatically raise Ohioans’ utility bills, noting a cleveland.com story about a Northeast Ohio business owner who would be forced to pay $1,000 more per month because his business has four different electric meters.
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican who has made HB 6 a priority, has said he hopes to pass the legislation in the next couple of weeks.
The subcommittee recommended the changes by a party-line vote, with every Democrat voting no.
House Democrats appear willing to allow subsidies for FirstEnergy Solutions’ nuclear plants, but only at the price of beefing up Ohio’s green-energy laws.
In a release Thursday, Democrats proposed requiring 50 percent of utilities’ electricity to come from renewable sources by 2050, rolling back stricter limits on wind turbine construction, and making other efforts to encourage wind and solar projects in the state.